Monday, July 02, 2012

Communicating Hope

We all have hopes. Hopes for ourselves. Hopes for our families. Hopes for our careers. Hopes for the world and the countries and cities we live in. In fact, hope is contagious.

As one dictionary defines it: hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Therefore, the only way to achieve our hopes is to say YES when opportunity presents itself or to work hard to create the opportunity that will enable us to fulfill our hopes and dreams.

One of the best talks about hope and fulfillment that I have ever read was delivered on May 27 by Kennedy Odede as a 2012 senior class welcome during the 180th commencement ceremony at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Mr. Odede went from Africa’s largest slum to become a student and ultimately graduate of the University.

While incorporating his talk into my blog makes it longer than usual, this young man communicates hope more effectively than anyone I have ever observed, and I feel it is a beautiful read. Below are a few, brief excerpts from Kennedy Odede’s speech, but it’s well worth reading this stirring address in its entirety. You can find it here.

I grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, where more than a million people live in an area the size of Central Park—without sewage systems, roads, running water, or access to basic rights like health care and education.

I was the oldest of eight children in a family that could not afford food, much less school fees. In Kibera, I dreamed of many things: food to eat, clean water to drink, safety from the violence, and relief from oppression that surrounded me.

Today, I want to tell you three stories about hope.

My second story.

When I was 18, I had a job in a factory. My work started at 7 and ended at 5, with a 2-hour walk each way. I could not afford the 10 cents needed for transport. I performed hard labor—dangerous work—for $1.50 per day. One day I realized, this was going to be my whole life.

When I arrived home to the slum that evening, I was horrified to discover that my friend Alvin had hanged himself—tired of living a life confined to poverty with only one possible goal: survival.

This was a moment that changed me. I did not want to waste my life.

With twenty cents from my job, I bought a soccer ball and started a movement of young people fighting for social justice in Kibera. While I was growing this movement, I met a Wesleyan student studying abroad in Nairobi. She thought I should apply to a school I’d never heard of, and without knowing what would happen, I said yes!

I believe we will only live in a better world if we are willing to take risks to make it a reality, only if we are willing to say, YES.

Finally, when we dare to hope, we create more hope in the world, which is my last story.

In my freshman dorm room at 200 Church, I founded the nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities with the help of another Wes student, Jessica Posner. Through Shining Hope we built the Kibera School for Girls—the slum’s first tuition-free school for girls.

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