This is why the school requires all students to engage in some kind of international experience prior to graduation because of the importance of having a global perspective.
So it was no surprise earlier this week when Paula Cordeiro, dean of SOLES, was thrilled to introduce a passionate group of students, faculty and staff to Wiclif Otieno, the founder and executive director of Kenya-based, KITO International.
“I attended a conference on poverty alleviation in Mexico and that’s where I first met Wiclif and heard his amazing story,” Cordeiro said.
The nonprofit organization, which focuses on youth poverty alleviation in Kenya, has been designated as SOLES’ featured international partner for 2013. Other SOLES partnerships include Omega Schools (West Africa, 2012), Minato School (Japanese students in San Diego, 2011), Daraja Academy (Kenya, 2010), University of Pretoria (South Africa, 2009) and International Council on Education for Teaching (2007-08).
What is KITO? Otieno’s business card offers a clear objective: “KITO is a Swahili word that means precious gem. We believe that street youth are diamonds in the rough and, through polishing, they can unleash the immense potential that they have.”
Otieno knows because he is living proof. His life was shattered at age seven when his mom succumbed to HIV/AIDS while growing up in Mathare near Nairobi, Kenya. He never knew his father. His grandmother was a wonderful support system, but she died by the time he was 10. He felt like an orphan. He was a young boy with seemingly no hope and he fell into a world of drug addiction and violence. He was living on the streets for five years and experienced poverty firsthand.
That was until an American couple, traveling through and grocery shopping, happened to befriend him, listened to his plight, formed a bond and chose to support his rehabilitation.
“I would not be here today had they not taken an interest in me,” Otieno said in his website biography. “They organized for me to enroll in a rehabilitation center in Kawangware, a slum on the opposite side of Nairobi. … They continued to invest in me for the next 10 years. They became the parents I never had.”
Their support helped him launch KITO International in 2010 and now employs four other former street youth. The organization works to alleviate youth poverty by providing street youth with rehabilitation, skills training, business and education opportunities and more to put youth on a path to a more productive life.
“It’s designed by street youth for street youth,” Otieno stated. “We’re working to get youth off the street and out of poverty.”
His organization also partners with community development organizations to assist orphans, street youth and HIV-positive women. In 2010, Otieno was chosen as a Cordes Fellow, which enabled him to go to Ixtapa, Mexico and speak about KITO International at an Opportunity Collaboration event that Cordeiro attended.
Otieno spent this week attending various classrooms, meeting students, staff and faculty and SOLES events. The school has been conducting a fundraiser for KITO International in the Bishop Buddy Sala/lobby area of Mother Rosalie Hill Hall this week. Gift items, including books, clothing, games and toys are available for purchase and all proceeds go to KITO International. The organization also has products of its own for sale, including paper bags made of 100 percent recycled materials and sandals that are partially made from used car tires.
“We are creating a movement,” said Otieno with heartfelt pride and a strong sense of commitment.
That’s why SOLES wants to be involved, why it wants to partner with international-focused organizations like KITO International — education is something everyone should get to experience.
— Ryan T. Blystone