Nightly News   |  May 20, 2011

Unlikely friendship leads to girls’ school in Kenya

Making a Difference: When an American college student forms a friendship with a homegrown activist in one of Kenya's largest slums, their work together brings much-needed help to a community of girls who faced danger daily. NBC's Maria Menounos reports.

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DAVID GREGORY, anchor (Washington, DC): Finally from us tonight, our MAKING A DIFFERENCE report. Again tonight it is about the lives of girls growing up in one of the poorest places on earth, in Kenya . Last night our Maria Menounos reported on one program in Kenya that is making their lives better. Tonight Maria introduces us to a couple of extraordinary people, one a young American woman who had the vision and the persistence to create a remarkable refuge for a group of little girls.

MARIA MENOUNOS reporting: American college student Jessica Possner wanted to live where she volunteered in Kenya 's largest slum, Kibera .

Ms. JESSICA POSSNER: I felt like I had so much to learn.

MENOUNOS: There she met Kennedy Odede , a homegrown activist born and raised in Kibera , a place with little sanitation and extreme dangers, especially for girls.

Mr. KENNEDY ODEDE: I thought it would be very difficult for an American girl to come and live.

Ms. POSSNER: Kennedy was a street boy, just struggling, fighting, making his own way, earning a dollar, $2 a day. He would give it all away . And instead of asking them to pay back the loans, he would just ask them to pass it forward.

MENOUNOS: The two work together, encouraging each other's goals. Jessica won the trust of the neighborhood, and Kennedy eventually won a full scholarship to Wesleyan University in Connecticut . For both, it opened a world they never imagined possible.

Ms. POSSNER: Kennedy had always talked about wanting to build a school for girls and the other services that he -- the community really needed.

MENOUNOS: Jessica also coaxed Kennedy into applying for a $10,000 grant. Suddenly they could see a dream realized.

Ms. POSSNER: It was a frenzy. The whole school, I think we built it in four weeks.

MENOUNOS: Since 2009 , 64 little girls now have free access to health care, food and a good education. At ages five and six, many are victims of what is

common here: sexual abuse, HIV , and hunger.

Mr. ODEDE: I love you.

Ms. POSSNER: I saw video of you, Kennedy , taking each girl by the hand, shaking their hands, and saying, 'I love you.'

Mr. ODEDE: I try to welcome them back to the world that they never lived in, to the world where they're important.

MENOUNOS: Now as Kennedy finishes his degree, Jessica runs the school in Kibera full-time, along with a loyal community that helps her also manage a health clinic and community center ; an unlikely friendship that has changed not only their lives, but so many more. Maria Menounos , NBC News, Kibera , Kenya .