| March 29, 2013

From Slums to Superstars


All of our launches are special, but there are some that tug at our heartstrings and strengthen our resolve to keep doing what we do: put more books into more kids’ hands, especially in the most marginalized fringes of society.

Kibera Girls’ Soccer Academy (KGSA) in Nairobi, Kenya is one of the schools we can’t get out of our heads, for lots of reasons.

Life in the slums

Life is hard in this part of the capital city. The Kibera neighborhood is the second biggest slum in Africa, and there’s a lot of work needed on every front.

Piles of like this are common Kibera slums, and the neighborhood lacks basic sanitation and running water.  

Most of Kibera is built on a foundation of refuse (the city has not yet extended garbage collection services to this area), and when it rains, houses often collapse because the ground shifts.The Uganda Railway Line goes through Kibera, and there are no over- or underpasses, pedestrian crossings with lights or any other kind of signal to indicate when a train might be coming. The popular path across the tracks is right next to a school, and we were told a couple kids were killed by a passing train. Most houses don’t have running water, and people have to pay to use toilets or showers.

The story goes on and on – not in a good way.


Giving girls a chance

KGSA is a bright light in the middle of all this squalor. It’s a place of promise and where girls can excel. It’s where a different story unfolds.

Growing up and living in Kibera, Abdul Kassim saw how women faced a disproportionate amount of challenges and extreme gender inequalities in the slums.

Thinking of his mother, grandmother, aunts and his own daughter, Abdul started a soccer team for girls called Girls’ Soccer in Kibera in 2002, according the organization’s website. The idea was to foster a supportive community, providing emotional and mental support for young women in Kibera. The girls picked up the game quickly, and soon they were competing against the community’s boys’ teams. Soccer, it seemed, served as a middle ground for both genders, offering space for acceptance and encouragement.

Despite the program’s success, the girls still fell victim to the sad realities of living in Kibera — some were raped, forced into prostitution, suffered disease or turned to drugs. The soccer program was a good start, but Abdul knew a more systematic change needed to have the impact he hoped for. A school, for instance, could bring about longer-term change.

A friend of Abdul’s offered to convert his house to a school, and other friends collected enough funds to buy tables, chairs and textbooks. In 2006, KGSA was established and the first 11 girls attended classes taught by two volunteer teachers. Today, KGSA has 20 full-time staff members and more than 130 students annually. It also provides various artistic and athletic programs aimed at inspiring the slum’s young women to become advocates of change within their own communities and for Kenya as a whole.

KGSA’s story goes on and on – in a good way. You can see more of how it’s working here.

Empowering with e-books

When circumstances aligned to team up with KGSA, you can see why we jumped at the chance.

Bringing digital books to a community like this could open up the world to many children and families living in conditions many of us could never imagine or endure.

The new e-reader program today directly impacts 130 girls and eight teachers. KGSA officials have plans to encourage the girls to take the devices home, which we expect will have a broader impact on the community as siblings, family members and friends read together.

Of the 10,000 e-books the students and teachers have access to, their favorites so far are Let Me Tell You, a collection of stories written by Kenyan coastal girls and published Storymoja, and Who is Barack Obama by Roberta Edwards.

We’re honored to partner with such a dedicated group of people who are creating opportunities for young women in a place where opportunities are severely limited.

And, wherever life may lead these young women after they have read all the books on their Kindles and finished their studies, in our hearts, we already see them as superstars.

We’re looking forward to getting frequent updates from the school and students, which we’ll share here.

On the ground in Kibera

Worldreader’s Zev, Sharon and Joan are in Kibera this week, working with teachers on the use of the e-reader, supporting them as they train their students, and presenting them with course completion certificates at the community launch event.

Here are a few photos from Zev.

Richard Teka, KGSA’s program manager, during teacher training. Worth noting: While  school’s library shelves are well-stocked, the books are underutilized because they’re mostly foreign books or outdated textbooks left behind by donors or visitors. With the introduction of e-readers and local, relevant content that’s at the right reading level, the hope is encourage the girls to develop a habit of reading, and over time, be able to use the e-readers alongside their existing paper books in the library.

Teachers Sam, Gilbert and Jamiah (clockwise, from top) learn how to use their Kindles. Worldreader’s Zev, Sharon, and Joan were on the ground helping to train teachers and students and talking to parents about the power of e-books.

KGSA founder Abdul Kassim at the community launch event

KGSA students engrossed in reading on their Kindles.