Clean water a right, not luxury – Odede

Inspired by Martin Luther King, he has a burning fire to change the area

In Summary

• Clean water, taken for granted by many in city, could sometimes be a luxury in Kibera

• Having lived in the slum, Odede knew exactly what people wanted and sought to give it to them through Shofco NGO

Shofco CEO Kennedy Odede
Shofco CEO Kennedy Odede

Having been born and raised in Kibera slums, Kennedy Odede, 35, believed providing affordable clean water would be the best way to uplift his old neighbourhood.

He says clean water, a commodity that many people could take for granted in Nairobi, could sometimes be a luxury in Kibera.

Statistics show that buying water from vendors is certainly an expensive affair for residents, as most earn less than a dollar a day.


There is no sewer system in Kibera, and tap water is only available for very few people. To make matters worse, dirty roads strewn with litter often contaminate leaking pipes, leading to waterborne diseases among the population.

It is for this reason that in 2004, Odede founded nonprofit organisation, Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), to provide clean water to slum dwellers at an affordable price.

“Having lived in the slum, I knew exactly what people wanted. People needed clean, affordable water more than anything else,” he said.

But he found himself at the mercy of water cartels, who would disrupt his supply to protect their illegal businesses.

He then came up with an innovative aerial water piping system that is currently reaching over 200,000 people.

“Poor sewage system everywhere contaminated the water. I thought to myself: ‘What if the water came from the air? I would also be able to beat the cartels,” he said.

Residents in slum now call it the water from the air or the water from above, which is also supplied for free in certain areas once a week.


Odede’s efforts have not gone unnoticed and in August 2008, he was awarded the prestigious Conrad N Hilton Humanitarian Prize for an overhead water piping system that has brought clean and safe water to slum dwellers. Odede received Sh200 million to go towards funding the project.

Previous winners of the award include Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health and Landesa, an NGO that secures legal land rights for the poor.

Odede first linked 100 homesteads, charging residents Sh2 for a 20-litre jerrican, which is way cheaper than what cartels charge, between Sh5 and Sh10 for the same amount.

Currently, there are more than 25 water kiosks across Kibera, serving over 200,000 residents. Odede said the Centre for Disease Control in Kenya decided to work with him after their recent survey found out that his innovation has reduced the spread of waterborne diseases.

Peter Okumu, who resides in Katwekera, Kibera, thanked Odede for the initiative. “His coming was godsent. He has really changed our lives. I used to spend so much money buying charcoal or paraffin to boil the water for drinking and cooking,” he said.

Odede said the biggest challenge is making the project sustainable as it grows to reach as many residents as possible.

“I want to make Shofco self-sustainable. I want it to grow and reach everyone out there in the slums. If I can cross the border, then that would be great,” he said.

He says renowned activist, the late Martin Luther King Jnr, inspired him to start the project. “Martin once talked about how change comes from you. That became the burning fire in me. With the help of other youths with no donor money, we believed we could make a difference,” he said.

Edited by T Jalio

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