Walking through the Kongowea slum in Mombasa, Kenya leaves your mind racing and your heart breaking.
Smells of urine, garbage sludge, deep-fried foods, and overly perfumed men and women wreak havoc in your nose. Loud voices, obnoxious car horns, gangster music, and prayer calls from the many mosques ring loud in your ears. Meanwhile you are watching children play barefooted in the trash piles, young men’s eyes glued on TV screens in video cafes, women sitting next to their charcoal grills making street food, and skinny stray cats scrounging for something to eat.
The neighborhood is overwhelming to say the least.
However, beneath the intense environment are real people who just want a chance to do well in life.
Some friends and I have started a soccer team in this community. We have a team of 24 young men who are hungry to play soccer.
Part of our mission is to keep them out of drugs, drinking, careless sex, gangs, and other destructive habits and focus their energies into soccer. In this community, idleness consumes youth because of the lack of employment and education aligned with poverty.
The phrase “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop” rings all too true in the lives of these youth who end up ruining their lives with cheap pleasures offered in the slum. As long as the boys are with us on the pitch, we know they are safe.
For them, being on a good team with a good coach is a big step in the right direction. Soccer opens up doors that would otherwise not be available to them. They are getting chances to travel around the area and become respected in their communities. Scouts of major soccer teams in Kenya are seeing them. Slowly, they are getting the opportunity they crave: to do well in life.
As I chat with the boys on our team, I realize that any opportunity to do something with their lives is triumphant for them. I recently had a conversation with the captain of our soccer team about what kind of opportunity he would like, and he said to me, “Any opportunity: an opportunity to get a job, to go to school, to play soccer, to leave the slum for even a day, to be noticed or respected, or even just the opportunity to have three meals a day or pay the rent on time.”
One of the boys on our team told me, “Nikole, if I could only have two dollars capital, I could buy plastic bags and sell them in the market for a profit of 25 cents a day!”
My first thought was, “Just 25 cents?” But to him, 25 cents assured him that he would be able to provide at least one meal a day for him and his mother. A chance to feed his mother something small was better than going to bed hungry.
This boy craves to make something decent of his life. Don’t we all strive to do the same? The only difference is that we actually have the tools and resources at our fingertips to make it happen.
The West is known as ‘the land of opportunities.’ We are rarely told we can’t do something. We are encouraged to step out of the box, strive for a good life, be creative, do what makes us happy, enjoy the luxuries the world has to offer, and be the best we can be.
Nothing can hold us back from accomplishing our dreams. The sky is the limit in Canada. And nowadays, even the sky doesn’t limit us.
As we gain financial support for our boys, we are helping to grant the desires of their hearts. We want to help them to nurture their God-given talents and skills. We want them to discover what makes them thrive and encourage them to go for it instead of just settling for anything that comes their way.
Some of our boys want to be mechanics, others interior designers. A couple of them want to start small businesses, and one of them wants to work with the big ships that come into Mombasa’s port. About half of them want to play professional football in Europe.
Who’s to say that they can’t become these things? All they need is the opportunity to do so.
Nikole MacGregor grew up in Castlegar and currently lives in Mombasa, Kenya, where she works with the Rehma Boys project.
For more information, visit: www.rehmaboys.com