“Let’s Move Forward” :: Francis’s History of Community Organizing November 10, 2014 by Carolina For Kibera
Francis Odera seems to be everywhere, involved in everything. As a resident of Kibera since 1994, he has seen the community grow and change, and as a volunteer with many programs, he has seen how different initiatives can make a profound difference.
Born and raised in Nyanza Province (in the western part of Kenya), Francis moved to Nairobi in 1989 in search of employment. Circumstances led him to move to Kibera in 1994 to live with his aunt. Little did Francis know this move would be life-changing for him. Kibera quickly became his permanent home and community.
After the Presidential election in 2007, when violence erupted across the country—and especially in Kibera—Francis was there. He was sometimes asked to intervene in violent or potentially violent disputes. On one occasion, he explained, “There was a man that had been stripped naked, surrounded by youth and was about to be killed. I didn’t yell. I just told them, ‘No. No,’ and the youth put down their weapons and the man lived.”
After tensions in the wake of the election settled down, Francis wanted to make sure that violence did not break out in Kibera the next time there were elections. He got involved in the Kenya government’s Peace and Reconciliation process, stepping into leadership roles in his community. “This was about having constructive ideas and working with communities to restore peace—to bring people together.” Much like CFK, Francis helped organize football tournaments and other community events to build community. The initiative started a dialogue of unity and peace throughout the community. “Peace doesn’t stop,” Francis said of this work. “I’m still an ambassador of peace.”
In 2011, the Ministry of Health started recruiting community members for its Community Strategy Policy, an initiative partially facilitated by CFK to extend basic health information into underserved communities. Francis was selected for Kianda, his village in Kibera. He was then trained by the government on basic health issues. As a Community Health Worker (CHW), Francis began working with different organizations to reach community members about personal and public health issues.
This is when Francis learned about Carolina for Kibera (CFK). “I met CFK when they advertised for volunteers for community health,” he said. “I was selected in 2012 to help identify malnourished children in the community.” In order to help people learn more about nutrition, he continued, “We followed up with community members after the screenings in order to sensitize them to these issues.”
Francis has since been more and more involved in CFK programs as a volunteer, community member, and parent to six children. He is also involved with the Trash Is Cash program, helping to recruit youth for various program activities. Additionally, he encourages his own children to be part of CFK’s programs when they can. His only daughter is part of Daughters United and one of his sons is active in Trash Is Cash. “All the programs at CFK are community based. Since I am a parent and a part of the Kibera community, I have been asked to engage with many programs.”
When asked what he wants for his community, Francis smiled and gathered his thoughts. “I want a changed attitude in the community. There’s a perceived attitude that people can’t change things themselves, but they need to see that it’s us who need to change so that everything else can change too. This can be done through information. People need proper, simple information. For example, if sanitation issues in the community lead to health problems then why not change the environment? Instead of getting sick and spending money to get treated, why not prevent people from getting sick?”
Noting that this can be difficult in Kibera with the amount of NGOs and different information circulating around the community, Francis said, “Yes, there are many NGOs in Kibera, but when you look for the work they do in the community, you don’t see it and can’t even find where they work. There really are only a few NGOs that are very serious and pushing to ensure change. CFK is one of them.”
Francis, always eager to serve the community in any way, actively encourages everyone around him to participate and grow together. “Let’s move forward together,” he said, offering a final, straightforward statement that summed up his attitude perfectly.