TEDxKibera, Kevin’s Story

Kevin Otieno is from Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Suraj Sudhakar is an Acumen Fellow living in Nairobi.  In 2009, Suraj introduced Kevin to the concept of TED and TEDx, and organized the first TEDxKibera. Their work inspired the launch of the TEDx Activator program, where individuals mentor TEDx events and organizers in developing world communities. Kevin shares his own experience as a TEDx Organizer, and what the experience has brought to his life.

I met Suraj while I was working as a project Manager at Hot Sun Foundation while Suraj was an Acumen Fund Fellow. At the time, the foundation was shooting a feature film (togetherness Supreme) in April 2009 and I was the Casting Director.

After we shot the movie, I was let go as donors had not send funds and I was back to being jobless in the slums of Kibera.

I called Suraj and explained my situation and we started communicating.

I did not know how to use a computer then. I never thought I could do it. Although I am a scriptwriter, I used to handwrite my scripts and give it to somebody to type it for me.

The layoff presented an opportunity for me, as I thought I might have been let go because I didn’t know how to use a computer.

I asked Suraj to help me pay for computer lessons and after much deliberations he advised me to learn computer on my own. At first, I didn’t believe it would work but decided to do it anyways, as Suraj paid for me to sit at a local cyber where I would sit on a computer for three hours learning on my own.

During this period, Suraj shared the idea of TED with eight others and me. At first, as someone from Kibera, it sounded an elite thing but inside I had this conviction that I should give it a try.

After watching the TED talks in a group, Suraj then threw a question to us: “Guys do you think we can organize such an event locally?”  We all agreed in unison that we can. After two weekends of the introduction, our spirits were very high so we put our heads together and went into planning and organizing the event.

Being a filmmaker, I knew my film experience would come in handy at TEDx events. I remember Suraj asking me if people will come and I told him in Kibera if we have money to pay for sitting allowance then we will get more than the number we need. (In Kibera, many NGOs will pay people in the slums to attend their events). But Suraj told me that that is against the policy of TED and that I should only get interested people no matter how few they would be.

We did the first TEDxKibera on 15th August, 2009. We had two HD cameras and my role came out handy as director.

As time went by, many of us, including me, were giving up. I think because we were not accustomed to waiting for what will come. We wanted to see the tangible benefits and we wanted monetary benefits. My six colleagues left.  I remained though, knowing that this is an open gate to filmmaking.

When we held a second TEDxKibera event December same year, I was, by default, the onstage host and I didn’t disappoint. In the back in my mind, I wanted to be behind the camera directing camera people, but it seemed this was also my calling. My new colleagues who joined — Chris, Dennis and Dickson — Suraj, and some of the audience agreed.

The first TEDxKibera we had only 40 people, which majorities were friends but the second TEDxKibera had 96 people. I started getting the power of TEDTalks and the transformation of thinking. As a person who has wanted to change the community, I found that power in TED and TEDx.

To my surprise, people in the slum kept asking me when is another TEDx event? This gave me a resolve to do more TEDx events, in 2010 I was not only the co-organizer but a licensee and onstage host. Though I still went for film projects when called, my heart was also for TEDx programs.

I co-organized TEDx events with Suraj and we spread that to other slums in Nairobi namely Korogocho, Kangemi and Mathare. We went to BabaNdogo in 2011 and Kahawa in 2012. We hosted TEDx events in all these areas with those who have interest in TED and TEDx events.

After seeing our success, TED was mesmerized and wanted to have similar program replicated worldwide and they started a program called TEDx Activator, in which Activator Managers find Activators and teach them how to host TEDx events.

Before selecting these Activators, we looked for those who are passionate in changing their communities and using the power of the ideas worth spreading. They also attended a training meeting where we took them through what is TED and TEDx and what is required of them as Activators. We also took them to  TEDx events that we organized to give them a sense of what happens at a TEDx event.

We had six enthusiastic fellows who had interest out of thirteen:

Sande Wyclife, TEDxKaranja

Chris Makau, TEDxSilanga

Alex Sunguti, TEDxKangemi

Ramadhan Obiero, TEDxBabaNdogo

Godwin Omondi, TEDxMathare

Fredrick Odol, TEDxWendani 

Besides these TEDx events we have also TEDxUmand) and TEDxShuleni which is for schools, as well other TED live streaming events like TEDxChange and TEDxLive.

TEDx has enabled me to meet and interact with the high and mighty locally and internationally – those who I deemed far from my reach because of my socio-eco status. It also has allowed me to travel out of my country for the first time and has given me leadership, organizational and planning skills. 

Visit the TEDxKibera Flickr stream for images from events in Kibera. 

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