Hundreds of kids filled the rainbow-coloured seats at the soccer stadium in the slums of Kenya. We were hosting a kids’ tournament for 16 teams in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
My husband — who grew up in the community — and his friend marvelled at all the kids. They were mostly young boys. His friend turned to me and said, “This is amazing. Do you want to know where these kids would be if it weren’t for these soccer programs?”
I would like to paint you a picture of where these kids might be if they weren’t at the soccer pitch.
The housing in the community known as Kongowea is Swahili, meaning they are houses made of stones and cement with multiple rooms inside all facing a main corridor. You find entire families living in each of these rooms. It’s a single room where they cook, eat, sleep and hang out. There is a common toilet (pit latrine) and a room for having a bucket bath. Some houses have running water, but most do not. Most of these houses do have electricity and most families have TVs. But because of the small living space, people, especially kids and men, spend most of their time outside in the streets.
In recent years some of the streets have been paved, but for the most part they are dirt paths. You will often find people burning trash or sewage water flowing.
Women sit outside the houses making scrumptious snacks over their charcoal cookers. Small kids run around and play in the dirt, finding old pieces of plastic or bottles or anything that they can turn into a toy. The streets are packed with small businesses of all sorts and local joints for quick bites and drinking. Outside of the shops, you can find stairs or rickety benches where men, particularly young men, like to hang out.
Many of these young men have gone to school. Some have finished high school, but many have dropped out due to lack of funds or behavioural issues. The unemployment rate is high and so it’s unlikely they can find a decent job. So they hustle to find odd jobs in the market. The Kongowea market is the largest produce market on the coast of East Africa. Early in the morning, people wake up and go to work in the market. Young men work as transporters or manual labour.
By noon, most of the work is done and they have a few dollars in their pocket. Then they have the rest of the day to enjoy. But they get bored and in their boredom, they start trying things like the latest, cheapest drug on the market. They find those rickety benches to sit on and chew drugs all day long. These drugs slow them down and make them unattractive. They hassle women and might end up with a child here or there that they cannot support. The child then grows up with a father who is so dysfunctional and a mother who is struggling to make a decent life for them. As these men grow older, few of them break out of this cycle, therefore creating an older generation of men who still do drugs, have multiple children often from different women, failed marriages, poor health, and are poor.
So when you put hundreds of kids on the soccer field, it means they are not in the streets being bored and falling into destructive habits. It means that there are opportunities for them to finish school, work hard, and do something with their lives. It means there are coaches and mentors who will pour into their lives when their fathers may be dysfunctional. It means that young boys are being moulded and shaped into constructive, responsible, influential and God-fearing members of their community.
This is the mission of The Rehma Project. We seek to empower the youth of Kongowea, Kenya. Through sports, mentorship, health, and education, our goal is that every youth will become constructive, responsible, influential, and God-fearing members in their community. Through our soccer program, we partner with local coaches and train them to mentor kids on and off the pitch. Together with these coaches, we are reaching hundreds of youth and providing them opportunities to go to school, to assist their families financially, and to stay out of the streets and away from destructive habits.
If you would like to join us in empowering hundreds of young people in Kenya, please visit our website at www.rehmaproject.org.
Nikole O Piyo is a Castlegar native who has moved to Kenya with her husband to run The Rehma Project, which is being supported in part by Castlegar area individuals and organizations.