Born and raised in Kibera slum, the second-largest urban slum in Africa and fourth in the world, Victor Odhiambo was one of many Kenyans who did not have consistent access to quality education. His family was unable to pay for school fees, resulting in Victor getting sent home often. Without access to quality education, the cycle of poverty continues, and youth are disproportionately affected if cost (for all genders) or menstruation (for girls) are barriers that keep them from attending their classes.
While growing up in the slum neighborhood, Victor says that most of his school mates were killed to due violence and some joined various gangs to meet their needs. In addition, Victor also realized that women and girls missed school because they did not have menstrual products. When he and his friends and visited a local orphanage, one girl approached him for Ksh 50 (50 cents). At first he was hesitant, but she insisted and he relented. He had asked his female classmates to find out what the money was for, and he was informed that the girl was using the money and her body in exchange for sanitary towels. Victor was crushed, but he made a vow that day to support women and girls get access to menstrual products so they would not have to resort to selling their body for basic goods.
These experiences affirmed the need to tackle poverty in his community, starting with equipping youth with the skills needed to be successful in their communities while reducing their need to engage in risky behaviors. When Victor was only 26 years old, he founded the Garden of Hope Foundation.
The Garden of Hope Foundation aims to build sustainable communities by developing leaders among youth in marginalized environments.
Since Garden of Hope Foundation was founded, Victor and his team have successfully mentored 5,000 young people in Kenya. Every quarter, over 200 youth undergo leadership and entrepreneurship training and leave with the skills necessary to lead and start their own organizations. Not only does the team perform capacity-building trainings, they also know that menstruation can act as a barrier if school-aged girls do not have access to menstrual hygiene products and feel embarrassed to go to school without them. The organization also distributes menstrual products to 500 girls and provides sexual and reproductive health information through monthly workshops in local schools.
I had the pleasure of meeting Victor at One Young World in The Hague in October 2018 and learned about his initiatives. He is just getting started! In 2019, he aims to establish an entrepreneurship center for youth, and become recognized as the premier youth leadership and entrepreneurship development organization for marginalized communities.