Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Soccer Keeps Them Safe"

June 1

The previous night I had visited Amy at her hotel and the trip home in the taxi afforded the first “all’s well that ends well” moment in Nairobi. The taxi driver was working for a posh hotel in Nairobi and I was silly to assume that would indicate competence. Long story short, he could not find my home and I was forced to call my host brother to come and find my location. Just a reminder of where I was.
The first of June is a national holiday in Kenya, known as Madaraka Day. While most people I met couldn’t tell me what the day was known for, I managed to get a brief description from my host brother. Madaraka Day is the anniversary of when Kenya was granted self-rule – not to be confused with independence. This happened in 1963. Just a few months later Kenya was granted independence. The first thought I had (sorry Mom and Dad) was Wow! My parents are older than Kenya!

Because of the holiday there was no work at the office so I spent my second full day in Kenya playing. I joined the girls’ soccer team from CFK on their team bus headed into the city center to play in a tournament. It turned out that a woman from another organization from a different slum in Kenya had created this tournament for all of the girls teams from the different slums of Nairobi. This was the second day of the tournament and the girl’s were to play in the quarter finals. CFK has four girls soccer teams split into age group and this was the senior division, girls who were 16 and up. It turns out that teenage girls in Kenya are just as rowdy as teenage girls in the US and the bus ride was a cacophony of laughter and singing along with the radio, with the occasional teasing of the coaches. CFK uses the soccer teams as a platform to create leadership and to teach health related issues and most of the girls involved have been so for some time and it was apparent they were one family.

The game was held at a very nice and very large boys boarding school in city center. I learned that the school was started by a foreigner for orphans from around the country and the program has expanded rapidly into one of the best, and biggest, schools in the whole country. When I asked someone about the person who founded this organization, the only thing he remembered was that “he died. He was a chain-smoker”. Good to know. So we played at the nice fields at the chain-smoker’s school.

The game was fun and the girls were awesome, although it was not a W. These girls were strong and dedicated. While we waited for the bus, two of the coaches who run the program took myself and Kevin (the other UNC  undergrad intern) to get a snack. We grabbed a matatu and took off down the road on my very first matatu ride. On the way there and on the way back, the drivers forced us to pay three times the normal rate of the matatu because of our mzungu status. When our Kenyan friends tried to argue with them, they told us that we all four had to pay because they were escorting mzungus. Frustrated, I felt bad for our Kenyan friends that they had to pay more on account of my citizenship. We grabbed snacks at a place in Eastleigh, chai and samosas.

                                                                      These girls are family. 

The bus was on Kenyan time and had not arrived when we returned from our adventure. The bus was about 3 hours late and the girls waited patiently under the trees while watching those who had advanced play. The down time afforded me the time to get to know one of the coaches, a girl about my age named Winnie. She had been a mentor to these same group of girls for some time and was a member of the program when it had started. It was obvious that the girls looked up to her.

I asked her about the program and what she thought the impact was in the community. Quite succinctly she said “Soccer keeps them safe”.

Winnie continued to tell me that girls in Kibera without a group like this get pregnant, then get married too young. They drop out of school and lose opportunities. Not one of the girls that were on the field, ages 16 to 23, had had a child, something that separated them from their peers not involved in the program. Besides playing football, the girls in all of the teams, aged from 10 to 23, receive training on health, hygiene, and leadership. The older girls, those who currently were giggling about someone on an opposite team with purple hair, were then trained to host health trainings for the community. In sets of four, they held meetings every Saturday for their peers in Kibera who were not involved in CFK to come and talk about health issues and any other topic that came up. This was extremely impressive to me. Admittedly, I have been skeptical about the use of sports in programming in the past but I think this one conversation alone showed me the potential.

While the girls certainly have more than their fair share of burdens, for now CFK’s soccer program attempts to keep them safe.  

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