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Doreen Nabwire | Kenya’s First Professional Female Footballer

Doreen Nabwire, the Pioneer of Professional Female Football in Kenya

Opposite Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani’s gate 11 is the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) headquarters, the Goal Project. Waiting for us at the entrance is Doreen Nabwire, FKF’s Women Football Development Officer who doubles up as the Competitions Officer. On the reception walls, there are two giant pictures. One of Victor Wanyama and the other of Doreen or simply Dodo as her peers call her. Until that time, my team did not know just how important our subject for the day is on matters football. One whispered a question to me, “why is her picture next to Wanyama’s?”

doreen nabwire

Photo by African Superwoman

I first met Dodo in June 2014. She was working for a local peace and sports organization while at the same time running Girls Unlimited (GU) discussed below. On many occasions, we attended meetings and activities together. These activities included those that GU conducted. I must admit that working with the person of Doreen Nabwire and seeing her every other day somehow blinded me from seeing the magnitude of her achievements and contributions.

Doreen Nabwire | Growing Up in a Football Family within Nairobi.

Doreen was born in 1987 in Ngomongo area within Nairobi’s Korogocho settlements. She has five siblings, two elder brothers, two younger sisters, and a brother. Dodo’s father was a football player until a hip injury cut short his promising career while still in high school. As she grew up, she watched her brothers Felix Oucho and Antony Khadudu play and this is also where she got interested in football. Doreen would kick anything kickable within the neighborhood from soda cans to homemade footballs. Antony realized her passion and bought Doreen her first football kits.

She joined her first club, North Villas at the age of 10 years. She played for the club for some time without her parent’s knowledge. Her mum learnt of her football activities when, one day, the team went to pick her up from home to go and play. Her mum refused but her father overturned this decision immediately and gave Doreen the go ahead.

Family of Footballers

Antony played in the Kenya Premier League and Felix went on to become a coach in Busia. Her younger sister Christine Nafula is currently playing in Sweden’s Dalheim IF and is a regular in the senior Harambee Starlets squad. Doreen’s younger brother, Eric Johanna, also plays in Sweden’s top side Idrottsföreningen Brommapojkarna (IF Brommapojkarna). Eric plays for the national team and was involved in all the three goals Harambee Stars scored against Ethiopia. He had a goal, an assist, and won a penalty. The last born, Vivian is a student at Kenyatta University. Dodo’s two sons, Tionne and Curtis have also joined Maono Football Academy.

Doreen attended Huruma’s Valley Bridge Primary School and thereafter Maina Wanjigi High School. She later joined Nairobi Aviation where she studied Tours and Travel. She also undertook courses in Cabin Crew and German language at the Goethe Institute, Nairobi.

Doreen Nabwire: Football Journey.

One cannot discuss Doreen’s football journey without mentioning Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). MYSA played a big role in her football and social development through their sports for development programs. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, the MYSA U14 team took part in the Norway Cup Tournament. In 2000 and 2001, Doreen captained her side to victory in the tournament where she also bagged the best player award. Later in 2001, she debuted for Harambee Starlets against Ethiopia.

Doreen Nabwire Football

A homemade football similar to what Doreen Nabwire used to kick as a child

In 2002 she was part of the national team that played several friendlies at Yale University. The same year, she joined Mathare United Women FC. In 2006 Doreen was part of the MYSA team that won the Street Football World Cup in Berlin. She also captained the U20 national team against Nigeria, Cameroon, and Djibouti in the same year.

2007 was a turning point in Doreen’s life. Being appointed an ambassador for Football for Hope, Doreen gave a speech on the benefits of sports in social work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualification Draw in South Africa, an event broadcasted to over a billion people globally. At the event, she shared the stage with the likes of George Weah, Abedi Pele, Marcel Desailly, Franz Beckenbauer, Lucas Radebe, Christian Karembeu, Thabo Mbeki, and Sepp Blatter.

Doreen Nabwire: Journey and Football in Europe

Leading German documentary filmmaker, Herbert Ostwald, interacted with Doreen and believed in her ability to be successful in Europe. He organized for Doreen to trial with several clubs in 2009 but she did not immediately sign up. This initial setback was not because she lacked talent, but because to live in Germany, she required a work visa. None of the women’s football clubs she attended trials could fulfill the work visa requirement.  During a UN conference in Nairobi, Doreen met Wilfried Lemke, the then UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Lemke had previously been the Chairman of Werder Bremen’s Supervisory Board. As a result of the meeting, Doreen overcame the visa obstacle and signed with Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen in a deal that saw her also work for the club’s social initiatives, 100% Werder Worldwide and Scort.

Doreen Nabwire

Photo courtesy, FUTAA.COM

Doreen’s debut appearance was a derby pitting Werder Bremen against Hamburger SV. The game ended with a 2-2 draw, Doreen scoring both goals. Just like that, the midfielder announced her arrival in Germany where she remains more popular than in Kenya. In the 2009/10 season, she was the club’s top scorer with seven goals in eighteen appearances, a big achievement for a midfielder.

During the 2010/2011 Season, Doreen moved to the Dutch Eredivisie team FC Zwolle where she also undertook her UEFA C coaching license. In the same year, she founded Girls Unlimited, a female-led sport for development organization that trains children, girls, and women to lead improved and fulfilling lives through behavior change and sports. GU has programmes on health, sanitation, and advocacy among others.  GU activities are conducted by current and former football players. Most of the former players have advanced coaching and management skills.

Doreen returned home and signed for Matuu FC as a playing coach between 2012 and 2013 before going back to Bundesliga’s FC Cologne the same year. In February 2014, she tore an Achilles tendon, an injury that took long to heal and occasionally proves to be problematic whenever she trains or plays.

Doreen Nabwire: Football Management

Doreen’s experience both locally and in Europe made her see the urgent need to develop good structures for women football in Kenya. This reason made her undertake the UEFA coaching course. In addition to Matuu FC, Doreen was also a playing coach at MOYAS FC. In 2016 while being the team manager of Harambee Starlets during the CECAFA tournament in Tanzania, she received criticism for playing. The two main reasons critics cited were her fitness and her role as team manager. I was also concerned about her fitness and I remember asking her about the same. 

doreen nabwire

Photo by Doreen Nabwire

Doreen has also coached the UNICEF and Ministry of Youth and Sports funded National Youth Talent Academy. In the run-up to the 2016 FKF elections, Doreen was passionate about change and her candidate of choice was Nick Mwendwa. She was sure of a win and believed in the change that was to come. The Mwendwa team won and Doreen got an offer within the new management. Everybody agrees that since taking office, there have been more women football activities. The new administration allocated more resources to women football activities and is in the process of putting in structures for different leagues and competitions for girls. She agrees that Kenya is not yet where it should be, but the country is making steps in the right direction.

Challenges remain as discussed in this previous post including lack of moral and financial support from stakeholders like the media, government, fans, and sponsors among others. Doreen states that plans are underway to establish girls’ U13, U15, and U17 national teams. She also believes that putting grassroot structures and competitions for children from the age of eight years will go a long way in helping Kenya become a strong football nation.

Doreen Nabwire: Coaching, Mentorship, and Other Interests

Doreen conducts mentorship and coaching (football and life skills) clinics. She conducts these clinics by herself or through GU.  Most of the girls she has mentored under GU and other places are successful within their clubs and at the national team. Doreen’s dream is to see many women footballers turn professional and also to develop the local women league. True to this, a number of both male and female footballers have gone for trials in Europe and some successfully signed for European clubs. Doreen Nabwire is also a regular pundit and commentator for local and international stations like KWESE Sports.

Doreen Nabwire Mentorship

Photo by Kigali Films

UPDATE

Doreen is among the ten African women pro-footballers that will be featured in the upcoming documentary, Talent of Africa, by Florence Ayisi of the LTA Agency.

Doreen Talent of africa

Photo by Talent of Africa

 

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Gender Equality in Sports | Kenyan Situation

gender equality in Kenyan sports

There Seem to a Systemic Reluctance to Promote Gender Equality in Kenyan Sports.

There is no doubt that there exists some systemic bias against gender equality in Kenyan sports, not only in Kenya but also in most countries. This situation is historical because generally, female participation and popularity in sports started later than male sports. Compared to their male counterparts, female sports grew and continues to grow albeit slowly. Although developed countries are trying to better facilitate women participation in sports, they also have their challenges. These challenges cut across the global north and global south, but worse in the south. Women first broke out of the traditional female fold during World War II when they took charge of protecting the domestic front, a role that traditionally belonged to men. During the war, most women participated in all military and sporting activities alongside their male counterparts.

Case Study

For participating in the 2014 FIFA world cup, the US Men’s Soccer team got USD 9 million after being knocked out in the Round of 16. In 2015, the US Women’s Soccer team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals but only took home USD 2 million. Worse still, the total revenue money for Men’s World cup was USD 576 million whereas, for the women, it was a mere USD 17 million.

The Vicious Cycle Dragging Women Participation in Sports

There is a vicious cycle of stereotyping, poor pay, low revenue, and poor coverage when it comes to female sports

Low Revenue

Women competitions generally attract low revenues due to less attention from fans, advertisements, and poor sponsorships. Low revenue generated only mean less pay to female athletes and slower development of female sports. Low revenues also mean that teams do not get enough money to run efficiently and professionally thus enhancing stereotyping and discrimination against female sports.

Fewer Women in Sports Leadership

gender equality in Kenyan sports

A screenshot of FKF Leadership retrieved on October 3, 2018 (Source)

Sports governing bodies are also not doing enough to promote women participation in sports. For instance, FIFA’s executive committee has only six women and thirty men. This composition translates to 16.7% females. The situation is similar in other bodies like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) together with their national subsidiaries. Research shows that including more women in management positions not only brings diversity but also leads to fewer cheating and corruption incidents because of the increased number of ideas and the ability of women to act fair compared to men.

Poor Renumeration

It is no secret that globally, women are underpaid. In Kenya, the statistics for women participation and pay in sports are rare to come by. I believe they receive allowances during assignments, these allowances are less than those that their male counterparts receive. This situation makes it difficult for them to turn professional and globally competitive despite being talented.

Poor Media Coverage

The media pays less attention to women competitions. The FIFA under 20 Women’s World Cup just ended but did not receive the needed coverage. People may argue that fans are less interested in female competition, but I believe that, with good hype, people will start attending female competitions and more will watch. I have seen locally that whenever institutions like Safaricom and SportPesa sponsor sporting activities, more fans attend. The success is normally because of the massive advertisements they put in place. Furthermore, to increase coverage and fans’ participation, bodies like FIFA should find a way of holding both the female and male versions of World Cup or continental competitions at the same time, just like at the Summer and Winter Olympics. Women’s tournaments are just as entertaining and as interesting as men’s tournaments. Better coverage will eventually lead to better funding and more revenue.

Stereotyping in Sports

Most people believe women should appear feminine and any depiction of features close to masculinity invites ridicule and stigma. Many female bodybuilders, wrestlers, and boxers have complained, in the past, at the lack of male suitors for sexual relationships. Most males may shy away from such relationships because of masculinity associated with these sports. In short, women are not allowed to build muscles despite the fact that exercising for sports competitions tend to make everybody build muscles.

Difference of Sexual Development (DSD)

gender equality in Kenyan sport must have womens

 

South Africa’s Caster Semenya is a recent example of a woman who underwent a hard time in the hands of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) scientists just to prove she is a woman. Furthermore, IAAF recently passed that Semenya and other Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) athletes must reduce their natural testosterone hormone levels or else compete with men. The question that nobody seems to realize is what if the opposite happens to a male athlete, would he be allowed to compete against women? Another case of stereotyping happened to US athlete and multiple Olympics winner Babe Didrikson. Didrikson won several competitions in the sprint, 80 meters hurdles, high jump, javelin throw, discus throw, shot put, and golf. The press criticized Didrikson for being unladylike and that she excelled in sports because no man found her attractive. Some people actually believed that she was a man.

Benefits of Promoting Gender Equality in Kenyan Sports

Looking at the Kenyan situation, I can comfortably say some sports are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. The current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) has given all intentions by supporting women football. From this support, Harambee Starlets are performing better than before. Former Kenyan international and professional footballer, Miss Doreen Nabwire, who we will feature in our next article, leads women leagues and activities at FKF, therefore, doing her part in promoting gender equality in Kenyan sports. The benefit of having the likes of Miss Nabwire is that they grew during the broken systems and rose to play in some of the most competitive women leagues globally. Therefore, she understands what works, and the gaps to be filled.

Athletics Kenya (AK) are better at supporting women but I tend to believe it is because of the individualistic nature of the sport that ensures an almost ready product for AK to polish further. In the sports for development article, we saw the ability of gender equality in Kenyan sports to generate sustainable social, economic, and political changes in the society. Imagine what will happen if more women were to participate in one way or the other. UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also covers the potential of sports in gender empowerment and general societal development. Sports can amplify the voices of Kenyan women and reduce gender disparities in the country.

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Ben Ooko | Amani Kibera

In 2007, Kenya was at an all-time high political temperature. Campaigns were on top gear with each side highly expectant of victory. The campaigns were largely peaceful with pomp and color apart from a few cases of political intolerance and violence, but nobody had prepared the country for what was to come after the election. Whether the 2007 post-election violence was pre-planned or spontaneous remain a matter of debate. Like many other times before, politicians mobilized youths for campaign purposes, however, evidence from different communities suggests that some of the youths may have been organized and transformed into criminal elements that terrorized people during the post-election violence. This was the experience leading to Amani Kibera initiative.

Due to the socio-economic situation in Kibera, politicians continue to use the slums as a catchment area for idle youths. Few months before the 2007 elections, a group of youths in Kibera identified this cycle of exploitation and organized community sensitization activities. Leading these activities was a young Ben Ooko and his peers, and they called the activities Amani Kibera. Like most of us, the magnitude of post-election violence took Ben by surprise. For weeks, Kibera was on its toes. There were constant running battles between the police and youths. Ben witnessed firsthand how a society could turn against itself, neighbor against neighbor. All around him, there was the destruction of property and death.

Ben and his group could not sit and watch Kibera burn, a community that raised them. They quickly resumed their community sensitization activities. As the Kofi Annan-led mediation process continued, the Amani Kibera activities grew. At first, there were several activities but they soon realized sports attracted more youths. Ben noted the ability of sports as discussed in our previous post.

Encouraged by the support from the community and initial success, Ben and his friends decided to register Amani Kibera as a Community Based Organization and developed a strategic plan. They started small but partnered with the community and other stakeholders as the CBO grew. To date, Amani Kibera designs comprehensive sports programs that include an annual national football tournament dubbed “Ukabila ni Ujinga.” Ukabila ni Ujinga attracts boys’ and girls’ teams from all over the country and has a dream of hosting teams from outside Kenya one day. Amani Kibera also runs other programs like the annual Miss Amani Kibera Beauty Contest. The same pageant that Deborah Gori  won. To date, the organization also runs the Amani Kibera Community Library which won several awards within the country. The library is free to all students and has also stocked Kenyan syllabus-ready kindles. In addition, the facility has an internet-ready computer lab.

Another project, the Amani Kibera Uwezo Empowerment Center is another success story. The center I a relief to young mothers and girls within Kibera. Uwezo Empowerment Center empowers mostly girls, and sometimes boys, through impacting them with skills such as bead making, tailoring, and computer literacy. Uwezo sells most of its products and uses the money to run the center and some part of it to pay learners. The center also houses a daycare unit where young mothers who train at the center and those from the community bring their babies and pay KShs. 50 for the whole day. The daycare has enough facilities and toys for the babies. The daycare, just like all the projects under the CBO, is not for profit. Mothers pay the KShs. 50 paid to keep the facility running, feed the babies, and keep them comfortable. Currently, hundreds benefit directly from Amani Kibera’s projects daily and thousands have indirect benefit.

A clear sign that Kibera recognizes Ben’s effort is the fact that, walking around, everybody calls him “Ben Amani Kibera.” His name is synonymous with peace in his community. He currently commands respect, not only in Kibera but also within Nairobi and the country thanks to the partnerships and friends he has created through his work. Both Ben and Amani Kibera are receivers of several awards but the recognition does not seem to amaze him. According to him, he did not do anything for recognition or award, but he remains glad because people continue to recognize the work of the CBO. Talking to him, he makes his wish known that even when his time is over, Amani Kibera should continue giving back to the community for the next many generations. Ben believes in a collaborative approach to peacebuilding and creating opportunities as a way of mitigating future threats to peace.

The success stories of Amani Kibera are many, but they have also undergone periods of uncertainties and difficulties. One of the major challenges that most NGOs and CBOs face today in Kenya is the shrinking space and funding opportunities, leading to organizations like  Amani Kibera to feel the pinch. Secondly, the organization became a victim of illegal slum constructions after the Kenya Railway demolished a facility they had rented for one of their two libraries because the proprietor constructed it on a railway reserve. Currently, the government is constructing a road that will pass at the center of their office complex that houses the library, daycare, and Uwezo Empowerment Center. I asked him about his next plan for relocation or negotiating with the government for compensation, the ever-positive Ben told me he does not know yet but believes something better will come out at the end.

AMANI KIBERA UPDATE (Few Months after the interview)

Amani Kibera has since lost its center because of the ongoing demolitions in Kibera. The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) demolished Amani Kibera’s Uwezo Youth Empowerment Center that had a library, computer center, a technical school, and daycare to pave way for the constructions of Ngong Road-Kibera-Kiungu Karumba-Langata link road. Talking to Nation Newspaper, Ben Ooko said people remained calm despite the demolitions due to a series of meetings that they have had with the residents. Amnesty International, however, condemns the activity citing the need to first resettle the affected residents.

M-CHANGA FOR AMANI KIBERA

Amani Kibera has since set up an M-Changa drive to help the organization raise funds. The funds will go towards identifying a space and setting up of the complex. Visit this M-Changa campaign and help Amani Kibera rebuild the Uwezo Youth Empowerment Center.

 

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Sports for Development in Kenya

The role of sports for development in Kenya today is minimal and under-utilized. Every other day, people use sports not only for competition but also for mobilization and entertainment. However, sports is a complex science with more benefits than just financial and physical fitness. Sports has the power to transform societies in ways never imagined before.

Kenya is yet to fully exploit the potential of sports and play to transform the society into a better place. Growing up, most parents emphasized the importance of education to their children because it was “the only key to success.” Sadly, the society denied its children and youth the chance of enjoying and exploiting their talents in sports. Today, this narrative is changing thanks to the limelight shown on European football and other international sports. Kenya’s success in athletics also contributes to this change in perception. Slowly, the society is embracing sports as one of the keys to success. Within the last decade alone, there has been a considerable rise in the number of sports-related programs both from the government and private sector. We have also seen a good number of parents supporting their children within the various sports disciplines and through sports academies.

The Common Dream for Parents and Children

During a recent visit to South Nyanza, I interacted with a young boy, probably in his early teen years. He quickly steered our conversation to football, detailing his dreams to play football, earn, and build his mother a house. I challenged him about the possibilities of achieving his dreams having in mind ours is not a country known for its football prowess. The young boy’s clarity and conviction came out strong that nothing will stand between him and his dreams. His mother, a single parent, also believes that her son has more chances in sports than any other sector. On probing further, I realized that the current state of corruption and employment in the country made her support her son’s ambitions.

Internationally, governments and non-profit organizations are designing sports programs that go beyond money, mobilization, fun, and fitness. Countries like the Netherlands and Germany long realized the evidence that sports and play builds one’s ability to lead better lives and become accountable for their actions. Locally, several non-profit organizations are also implementing such programs especially with the vulnerable and most-at-risk populations in slums and rural areas.  This approach is Sports for Development or Value-Based Sports. In the coming posts, this platform will cover the experiences of Ben Ooko, and two other Kenyans who have dedicated their lives to support Value-based Sports.

Value-Based Sports

Since 2014, I have taken part in several activities revolving around Sports for Development. These activities include Sports for Peace, Football 3, Football for Hygiene, Football for Agribusiness, sports for Women empowerment and others. At first, one may not really understand how sport and activities like agribusiness relate, but seeing it done practically makes sense.

These sports for development sessions have a variety of designs. Commonly, these designs tend to have activity, reflection, connection, and application sessions. Activity session is the actual modified version of the game. The reflection session involves looking back at the skills learned during the game. During the connection session, learners connect the skills on the field to real life skills. Finally, learners apply those skills to real life cases during the application session.

These programs, if designed and applied well, teach life skills that are essential in overcoming poverty, building peaceful societies, promoting social equality, promote practical thinking, and promoting behavior change.

In the coming weeks, Twajivunia will be covering three exceptional heroes using sports to transform their communities into inclusive safe spaces for everybody. The three case studies will clearly give the evidence on the role of sports and play in making communities safer, promoting behavior change, and encouraging academic performance. Through sports, these individuals and their organizations have moulded community leaders, provided opportunities for girls, and resolved conflicts.

The 1989 UN Convention on the Right of the Child, Article 31, notes that all children have a right to play, leisure, and participation in artistic and cultural activities.

Sports for Development and Children

 

At their tender age, children use play to explore and create. By playing with their peers, children develop vital social skills and confidence. Play attracts children naturally, therefore, should be right and not a privilege. Play also help children to express their emotions, therefore, denying them the chance robs them of the ability to have a holistic growth. Other benefits of play to children include physical development, social development, cognitive development, better health, and preventing diseases among others.

The right to play is protected in Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

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Deborah Gori | Because I am A Girl

Today, Twajivunia shines a light on Deborah Gori, popularly known as Dee Adelle, a fresh graduate of Moi University, a model, and founder of Because I am A Girl initiative in Kibera. Dee grew up in the Soweto area of Kibera slums and faced challenges that come with slum life. Currently, she gives back to the community that raised her through her initiative that empowers and supports school going children in Kibera. Dee believes that both genders should be involved in programs that support the girl child for a comprehensive understanding of issues and a supportive approach from all quarters.

(Amani Kibera is a Community Based Organization whose work we will `cover in detail next week).

Soweto area has transformed since the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) started building sustainable houses in the Kibera Soweto East Zone. The gated flats are neatly planned and have beautiful finishing with ample parking and well-manicured lawns that can easily fit within a Kenyan upmarket estate.

Slum Upgrading Programme Kibera Kenya Amani Canaan Soweto

Picture by BuildDesign

Surprisingly, residents only pay KShs. 3,000 annually to live in the units, but people being people, some beneficiaries rent their units for monthly rents that go as high as KShs. 20,000. All in all, the development is admirable. Dee lives in one of the units, the same spot her old shanty used to be before KENSUP which also acts as the office space for (BIAG).

Dee walks in measured gaits just as one would expect of a model. The way she stands, smiles, gestures, or talks betray her love for the industry. Growing up, she always wanted to be a model despite the challenges of life in the slums and the perceived difficulty for girls of her background to have a breakthrough in the industry. In 2015 as a student at Moi University, Dee Adelle was the runners-up for Moi University’s Miss Culture. With this success, she participated in the 2017 Miss Amani Kibera beauty contest where she again emerged second overall.

caret-down caret-up caret-left caret-right

Remember the 2017 Mr & Miss Kibera Runners UP? The 21-year-old Deborah "Dee" Gori finally graduated from Moi University where she was pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Education Arts. Born and raised in Kibera-Soweto East area, Dee a project "BECAUSE I'M A GIRL" (BIAG) whose main aim is to empower the Girl Child through education.She believes in serving all people regardless of their social class, tribe and race. She was also Miss culture runners-up at Moi University. Amani Kibera team would wish to say~"CONGRATULATIONS Deborah"

Amani Kibera

Growing up in Soweto was not easy for her and other girls. As a primary school student, she remembers her routine walk to and from school that involved the risky journey of having to jump over sewage water and other waste materials. Life was not easy to all children but girls were vulnerable due to the socio-economic situation at the time that required girls to do household chores in addition to school work while lacking the support to own basic things like adequate sanitary towels.  Such challenges, she believes, shaped her perception and determination to lead a better life. This determination enabled her to excel in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams and join Nyakach Girls for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE). She excelled in her KCSE and qualified for a government-sponsored Bachelor of Education course at Moi University in Eldoret.

Because I am a Girl (BIAG)

KiberaAmani Kenya Slums Nairobi

Dee: During the interview

Debora founded BIAG to help girls overcome the challenges she faced growing up. Initially, she did not have an official sponsor, but she relentlessly conducted activities in schools before a lawmaker agreed to fund aspects of the initiative. Surprisingly, the lawmaker is from Kisii County and not Nairobi. BIAG grew as the days went by, and she managed to conduct activities in 22 schools within Kibera. BIAG’s one-on-one and group discussion approaches exposed some reasons behind school absenteeism and poor performance among school going girls. Top of the reasons included lack of sanitary towels, teenage relationships, and general insecurity. BIAG managed to provide sanitary towels and also counseled the girls in addition to linking them to support structures within Kibera. According to Dee Adelle, she came to realize the importance of involving boys in her discussion in an effort to help them understand and support girls.

Currently, BIAG has activities in 22 schools, all within Kibera with plans to expand into neighboring estates. The initiative has also held single sessions in twelve schools in Kisii County after the primary donor saw the benefit and requested for the activities in his county. Debora hopes that with time, BIAG will expand and be in a position of changing more lives within the informal settlements of Nairobi.

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Mama Mercy: Good Samaritan Children Home

Good Samaritan Children Home believes that every child deserves to have a parental figure, food, shelter, clothing, health, and education.

Since 1991, Mama Mercy of Good Samaritan Children Home in Mathare and Dandora estates in Nairobi does her part in making children feel safe by absorbing abandoned children and children from the streets and giving them a home, food, clothing, and education.

On the outskirts of Mathare Valley is the Good Samaritan Children Home, a facility that has been in existence since 1991 under the leadership of the owner and proprietor, Mercy Thuo Mugeci Mburu, popularly known as Mama Mercy. Good Samaritan blends with the neighboring buildings overlooking Mathare Valley, most of which are unfinished three-to-four story buildings opposite the shanties of Mathare Valley.

“Being a parent to hundreds of children is not an easy task. I am doing it because I love children and because I believe that is my purpose on earth. What will I gain if I have all the wealth and get robbed by a somebody in the street simply because he or she lacked an opportunity in life?”
Mama Mercy
Good Samaritan Children Home Aisha, Abdul, twins

A week after the twins were rescued

Opposite the facility is a small pig shed, an income-generating farm for the Good Samaritan Children Home. With a light blue gate, the inside consists of a permanent three-story building still under construction overlooking a two-story semi-permanent structure made of iron sheets. Here, Mama Mercy lives with over three hundred children of different age groups and all call her mum and depend on her for everything.

On the ground floor of the facility is the ablution block and a medium-sized multi-purpose hall which is directly opposite are her office, kitchen, and storage. The first floor has the boys’ dormitory overlooking another small hall, a library, and computer room. The second floor houses the girls’ dormitory and Mama Mercy’s humble apartment in the corner.

We first visited this facility in 2016 and 2017 as part of the Five Star Nairobi School of Music, formerly  RMMA, Outreach Program after which we booked for this interview. We had learned, through the children and people who knew her, that Mama Mercy was a different kind of woman with a unique passion for children.

During the first tour, we noticed that she lives within the facility and shares her humble apartment with rescued infants and some of the girls all sharing the same meal as the other 400. This situation is different from many children homes that we visited before and, in addition, there is a general perception that proprietors of such homes lead better lives compared to the lives of children under their care.

Good Samaritan Children Home

The twins, a year later

As we started the interview, Mama Mercy told us that her initial inspiration was the view that every child is innocent and deserves the care of a mother. She continued to narrate that the fact that she has the strength to offer the children all the basic needs and see them become responsible adults also inspired her more and led to her starting another branch of the Good Samaritan Children Home in Dandora slums.

Mama Mercy receives her children from different places. First, there are the infants and children whose guardians have abandoned in places like her gate, public places, and bus stations. She then coordinates with the children’s department, the police or the public for proper investigations before she admits them. The second group consists of those who make their way to the home and request her for admission, a majority of whom are from Nairobi but occasionally receive children from as far as Mombasa and Kisumu.

According to Mama Mercy, she never turns any child away, no matter the resources, her only conditions are, “live well with the others and agree to be enrolled in a school.” On inquiring further, she says that all the 600 children in both centers go to school, a good number attend private schools.

Good Samaritan Children Home has no regular donors but relies on well-wishers who select the children for whom they pay school fees, some even take up to facilitate the schooling of up to thirty children. Children at the home are at different academic levels, from kindergartens to tertiary institutions. The same case applies to food because, often, people commit themselves to buy different types of food for the home. For this reason, she heaps praises on some of the alumni of the institution for always giving back financially and through volunteering their skills and labor.

Same baby, few days after being rescued and after one month

As the interview was coming to an end, we talked about people’s relationship with street children, policy issues, child protection, and other social ills affecting children. Mama Mercy urged people to treat street families better because it “was not their wish to live in the streets.” According to her, conditions in the streets shape these children and contribute to the negative behavior associated with them and that with good homes, these children are capable of leading disciplined lives. As a consequent of street life, the children face harassment, violence, drug use, physical and emotional abuse, loneliness, fear, starvation, exposure to weather elements, unintended and early pregnancies, and poor hygiene among others. Lastly, Mama Mercy regretted that there is no tangible commitment from the government to sustainably implement programmes that will end the street children crisis in Nairobi.

UPDATE

Recently, Mama Mercy Thuo was accused of a possible child trafficking incident. We did our due diligence and helped the police with investigations before being arraigned in court. We followed up and talked to previous and current beneficiaries of the home. Based on our conversation with the authorities, Mama Mercy, and the beneficiaries, we have decided not to pull down this post until investigations come to a logical conclusion. We will pull it down if and when Mama Mercy is found guilty of the said offense. We call upon our communities to stand up and protect all the rights of children everywhere.

 

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Street Children in Nairobi

Street children and families Nairobi Kenya

 The Number of Street Children in Nairobi is Increasing.

The presence of street children is not a preserve of the Global South nations because they are present in the Global North, however, in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is a crisis and credible data sources point to an increase in their numbers over the years. In Kenya, understanding the background of these members of our society is an important factor that may equally explain the gaps in policy and actions that should counter the rise. Kenya has several dedicated governmental and non-governmental programmes that seek to address this problem, however, as the proprietor of Good Samaritan Children Home, Mercy Thuo Mugeci Mburu puts it, “Kenya fails because she lacks smart strategies that address localized grassroots causes of street children.” The lack of official government data on the number of homeless children shows the gap in solving the problem of street children in Nairobi, worse still, there is complete disregard on the gender composition and age groups of homeless children.

A 1999 study by Consortium of Street Children (CSC) indicated that Nairobi had over 50,000 street children, a figure that grew by 10% annually. In 2001, another research contradicted CSC’s findings and estimated the number to be 20,000 and in 2007, several sources indicated that the number was slightly more than 60,000 in Nairobi alone. In addition, these data sources failed to provide the gender and age group figures.  This kind of discrepancy may not help to identify the exact number of street children and therefore hinder effective planning.

street children in Nairobi Kenya

Photo by Kychan

In 2015 and 2017, the Nairobi County Government together with the National Police Service detained hundreds of street children to clear the CBD for the then American President Obama’s visit and to make the Central Business District (CBD) safe respectively.  On June 13, 2017, the Daily Nation reported that the whereabouts of the children remained a mystery since they were not in any government rehabilitation facility, surprisingly, both the National and County authorities pointed fingers on who should carry the burden of these children.

Truth is, the two governments have departments and funds for these children but have never really focused on solving the crisis. Documents like the 2011 Framework for the National Child Protection System for Kenya and the County Child Protection Systems Guidelines give clear procedures on the responsibilities of each government in a multi-sectoral approach. Kenya should undertake a multi-pronged approach that addresses the causes of children living in the streets while building sustainable solutions better than the 2003 program which absorbed approximately 500 street children into the National Youth Service.

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