The Story of Francis Kibet
Growing up in Kenya and living a portion of his life in Mathare (one of Kenya’s leading informal settlements), Francis Kibet developed an appreciation for individual impact and became committed to helping others. While living in Mathare, he remembers sharing a bathroom with 20 people and having to stand in line for the shared facility early in the morning to make it to work on time. Although he now lives in the United States, his Mathare experiences are part of who he is and helped shape his desire to make a difference in Kibera.
“There are things you learn, and they go into your head, and there are things you live, and they go into your heart,” Francis said. “It is part of who you are; it brings out the passion.”
Francis studied accounting at the University of Nairobi before moving to the United States in 2005 with his wife, Joan. While Joan continued her education, Francis obtained his MBA from the University of Eastern New Mexico. Now, he oversees technology audits in one of America’s largest utility companies headquartered in North Carolina. Though Francis is thankful for the job that he has, he recognizes there is a little more to life.
“People will most likely not remember that I was a very great auditor,” he said. “Instead, they will remember the things that I did to change another person’s life; the hours I put into CFK, the payback is invaluable.”
The Search for Service
Though Francis spent part of his life in an informal settlement near Kibera, he did not learn about CFK until he moved to the U.S. Francis first moved to New Mexico so that he and his wife could continue their education. After completing their studies, they relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina to be closer to friends. Francis didn’t hear about CFK until 2013 when a co-worker invited him to attend a book club meeting led by CFK co-founder, Rye Barcott.
“I remember leaving the meeting thinking ‘this guy was born and raised here in the U.S. and is doing something incredible in Kenya,’” Francis said. “I was very happy he was doing it, but I felt like I should part of it.”
Within a month, Francis became a CFK Board Member and now serves as Treasurer. As a Board Member, he believes his job is to promote the organization, help secure funding, and support the great team on the ground.
Serving as an auditor, Francis has worked with many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but CFK’s community-based, participatory development approach stood out to him. Before volunteering for CFK, Francis recognized that some international organizations receiving funding from the U.S. or other overseas sources have partial understanding of the needs of their constituencies. Most of the services provided don’t meet the acute needs of the people living and working in areas like Kibera. Witnessing firsthand the inefficiencies in spending and purchasing habits of a range of international nonprofits, Francis became interested in how NGOs could more effectively target their financial support.
Though CFK is an international nonprofit, many of its staff live in Kibera, and community engagement drives the organization’s approaches. Francis found the local-based leadership of CFK interesting, and he believes that it addresses many of the financial disconnects often present in international NGOs. Francis also noted that CFK’s partnership with the CDC was unique, especially now, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes that the ethical research-based relationship allows Kibera to serve as an incubator for solutions to challenges facing informal settlements worldwide.
The Year of Focus
While 2020 has been full of unexpected challenges, it has also been a year of focus for CFK. During these difficult times, Francis said that CFK’s impact has grown even more significant.
For example, Tabitha Medical Clinic partnered with the CDC and the Kenya Ministry of Health to collect coronavirus samples and lead contact tracing efforts in Kibera. Additionally, CFK’s Executive Director, Hillary Omala, has served on six different national committees and sub-committees, contributing to the Kenya national strategy on COVID-19 response and communicating the unique challenges of containing the virus in Kibera and other informal settlements across the country.
“When you are one of the last remaining healthcare centers still operating in Kibera in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and everybody, including the government, is looking to you for leadership…if that is not impact, then I don’t know what is.”
CFK has spent 19 years developing a model and programs that can apply to informal settlements around the world. In partnership with the CDC amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has begun expanding WASH initiatives outside of Kibera. Francis looks forward to expanding CFK’s programs and impact to additional informal settlements, while also staying true to the organization’s mission.
“Our mission is to enable the local people to execute on their priorities; what is important to them. And that is what will be our North Star during these challenging times,” he concluded.