Abdul Kassim and Ryan Sarafolean grew up world’s apart in every way … but with a kindred sense of compassion and justice.
Abdul was raised in Kibera, Nairobi’s infamous slum, home to some half a million Kenyans plagued by dire poverty, rampant disease, scarce drinking water and lack of basic sanitation.
“I don’t see why people should be living in Kibera and other slums,” says Abdul. “There is no justification.”
Ryan, on the other hand, was born into the good life.
“I grew up with a lot of privilege and I realized that at a young age. I just knew that I wanted to utilize that for the benefit of many more human beings.”
In 2006, as good luck would have it, their paths crossed when Ryan traveled to Africa.
“Traveling in Kenya, I realized most women just simply don’t have a chance after they’re 14,” says Ryan.
Amid the squalor of Kibera, Ryan connected with Abdul, the director of the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA). Initially begun by Abdul as a soccer club to reduce the inequality between girls and boys, it quickly evolved into a high school where girls from desperately poor families could be educated for free.
“The only way to cut down the vicious cycle of poverty is to educate these children,” says Abdul. “Education is replacing an empty mind with an open mind.“
Abdul and the students inspired Ryan to start a foundation in the United States to support KGSA financially and structurally in its development. Ryan became the founder and executive director of the KGSA Foundation.
Over the past 8 years, their collaboration has grown KGSA from a nine-foot-by-nine-foot single classroom into a two-story building, including four classrooms, a science lab, a library, a teacher’s office and a daily meal program. Abdul says their goal for the Kibera girls is clear.
“We must show them that there are so many alternatives out there, so many opportunities, so many ways of doing better things out there.”
Today, KGSA has 20 full time staff serving more than 130 students a year, providing them with free, rigorous education, a host of artistic and athletic after school activities, and financial training to help improve the economic security of their families.
Through its work, KGSA is actively inspiring the young women of Kibera to become equal and respected voices for change in their communities and in Kenya as a whole.
Building on that foundation, Abdul and Ryan envision global rewards in leveling the playing field between girls and boys and between privilege and poverty.
“Inequality is mostly what brings about hatred. And those who think it’s not their problem they might be surprised one day when it comes knocking on their doors.”