April 23rd, 2010:
Article written by Lorrie Fair, Kickabout Africa 2010
On a stretch of dirt near the Air Force Landing Grounds, the local and global faces of sport for development meet for a day of football and sharing. Coaches Across Continents is working with Vijana Amani Pamoja (“Youth Together with Peace”) to enhance VAP’s HIV/AIDS and TB education programs.
Along with Andy Old and Anna Rodenbough, Nick Gates weaves lessons about taking care of your body, being smart, and working hard into soccer-centered games and drills. Nick stresses the importance of fun and laughter, his team works closely with VAP Coaches to promote a more hand-on, interactive teaching style.
He’s serious when he says that “smiles per hour” is a metric Coaches Across Continents uses to measure success. Here in the Eastlands, there is a lot of success. Tons.
Vijana Amani Pamoja is a local football club and sport for development organization. Ten years ago, Enouce Ndeche decided to harness the popularity of the club (formerly called CASL) and its players to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in the Eastlands slums. He partnered with Grassroot Soccer to implement GRS’ HIV/AIDS education program and recruited VAP players and coaches to dedicate their time to working young people in Nairobi. Seventeen of his staff of twenty are volunteers. All of them are footballers, with most playing for VAP’s youth and top-flight teams.
At another Coaches Across Continents session, we sit with a few coaches and ask how (or why) they manage to volunteer so many hours when they still have to make a living, pay rent, buy food, and, in some cases, take care of their children.
Elli continues to work with VAP even after completing his degree in Business. “When the other guys in my neighborhood see me in my (VAP) shirt, they are envious. They know I’m doing something with my life and avoiding getting into bad things. I love being a role model.” Former VAP participant and current coach Eddie tells us that before he got involved with VAP he was shy and not very sure of himself. Now? “I can stand proud in front of a large group and teach them football and about life. It’s so great.” Around the group, the stories mirror each other. Everyone of them would like to do this as a paying job (and some do get a small stipend), but they are committed to making sure the kids of Eastlands living long and healthy lives.
“It’s what makes us such great friends. We all believe in this work.”
We see that dedication in action a few days later at a “Mbrembo” picnic in Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi. Swahili for beautiful (when speaking about a female), Mbrembo is a VAP program that “reveals the inner beauty of girls through sport.” Nancy created Mbremba after she joined VAP and noticed that there was not a girl’s team at the club. She decided to start her own so that she could reach out to young girls and talk about issues like reproductive health, life choices, unwanted/early pregnancies and child survival, abortion, and abuse.
About twenty girls (along with some boys from the same neighborhood) come out to the picnic and get a chance to play a few of the games the coaches learned from Nick, Andy, and Anna. It’s obvious that Coaches Across Continents made an impact; all of the coaches are constantly engaging and encouraging the kids to think, be strong, and be safe. Lorrie sits down with the girls to talk about life as a female athlete. Nancy hopes this will inspire the girls come out more frequently. She mentions how difficult it is to get girls to come out to training during the week. On top of their school work, most girls have a long list of chores to do each day. While there isn’t the same stigma attached to girls playing football as we noticed in other Kickabout stops, most people do not see football as something that can really help girls. It’s a distraction. VAP respectfully disagrees, and Nancy is here to show that football can be a powerful tool for empowering girls and young women.
I want the girls to see that being a good football player means being strong, dedicated, healthy, and smart. When they are good footballers, they are strong women. Strong women make good choices for themselves and their family.”