• Finding Beauty Through Soccer

    May 4th 2015. Some days it’s walking into the Indian ocean and watching the setting sun paint the sky different shades of the earth. Some days it’s swaying in a hammock on a mountaintop looking over the Caribbean as a flock of pelicans soar by in the wind. Some days it’s curling up in my big blonde furry friend and taking sloppy licks to the face in exchange for belly scratches and ear rubs. Some days it’s sharing a football juggle and a smile with a child because it’s the only language I can use to tell him he’s loved in this world. These moments of pure bliss in my life make the worlds problems disappear in the moment, but when my time is up… the harsh reality of the world we live is still very much there. The 14-year-old boy is still getting raped by his father. The 12-year-old girl is still trying to figure out how to live a normal life after living half of it as a sex slave. The 10-year-old child is still being forced into holding a gun. The 40-year-old woman is still getting blamed for her husband beating her. Massacres are still happening on school grounds. It is the nature of my job to face the ugly side of the world we live which has made me appreciate the beautiful moments even more.

    After 4 weeks on the field in Kenya and Uganda talking with adult coaches about the social issues they face in their communities, we walked onto a football pitch in Kitale, Kenya with a cluster of 80 boys and girls running around with footballs. This wasn’t a usual CAC week of training as our participants were no older than 17 years of age; the youngest being 9. The last time I worked with young leaders was in Cambodia about 8 months ago during my first volunteering program with CAC.

    Training young leaders is different than training adults. When the topic of drugs and alcohol, HIV/AIDS, child abuse, and early pregnancy come to the forefront, it’s clear that we are talking to the most vulnerable age group.

    I could tell there were stories hiding behind the blank staring faces when we arrived on Monday. Throughout the week I spoke with many of them- individually and in groups- casually and about more serious issues. They taught me Swahili and they asked me to teach them my national anthem, I tried but didn’t get very far. I told them my story and some of them told me theirs…I tried to relate in every way possible, even though we come from very different backgrounds; Even though FGM isn’t a common practice in my country and beastiality is a fairly new term to me; even though I was never hit with a stick for answering a question wrong in school, or was never married off to a man at age 13 in exchange for a few cows; and even though I was never told that a mans life was more valuable than a woman’s; I still tried to find ways to relate.

    Coming from outside of Kenya, it would be silly to act like I know what life is like here. I can imagine though, that growing up in Kenya is not easy for women and children. Abuse is more common here than not.

    Some of them opened up to me as the week went on- some found their voice on the field- some lit up with smiles everyday- others just simply participated and that was enough to reach them with the football.

    TYSA(Transznoia Youth Sports Academy) is the program we worked with this week. They are led by Gichuki, or otherwise known as Francis. He has committed over 30 years of his life to ensuring that children in his community can live happy lives. He realized his best tool to get children off the street and into schools was football, so he started his own youth academy. Boys and girls play together, children get scholarships to attend schools, and through the sport we all love, they are learning to become leaders in their community.

    It has taken great leadership to get to where TYSA is today. One of TYSA’s former students called OG says that Gichuki found him at a bad time in his life when he didn’t have much, and brought him into his academy to play for his team. OG, now in his late 20’s has grown up to become a coach at TYSA and will soon be running the organization with his fellow peers. Gichuki knows that his time is soon up with TYSA and It will surely be difficult for him to part with something so near and dear to his heart. But his vision from the beginning was to pass the leadership down to the next generation, who would then do the same when their time was up- a very thoughtful way to internally sustain the values and excellence demonstrated by passionate, committed people.

    Programs like TYSA, who believe in their young leaders and use football and games that we have taught them to give opportunity and a life to children beyond the streets, are changing lives for the better in Kenya and make this world a more beautiful place.

    My heart was heavy when I left Kenya on Friday because the friendships I made with the people of TYSA, from a small city just over the border of Uganda, was just what I needed to find beauty in this sometimes unexplainable world.

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  • Coaches With the Cows

    IMG_3917August 22, 2013.  Coaches Kefhira, AJ, and Oti headed west to Kitale for CAC’s final 2013 Kenya program. A short mutatu ride from Eldoret found us at our new site, where we were warmly welcomed by Gichuki and Ojillo, the coordinators of the Trans-Nzoia Youth Sports Association. From the beginning the coordinators were on top of their game. “Africa time” doesn’t seem to exist in Kitale, as our trainings started every morning at 9:00 AM sharp, with coaches showing up as early as 8 AM. Some coaches came from outlying rural areas and journeyed over miles of unpaved roads each morning, and we were so impressed with their dedication to learning about football for social impact.

    IMG_3838When you’re working in rural Western Kenya, farm animals come with the territory. We shared the field every day with 6 cows– 4 adults and 2 babies– that lived on the school grounds. There are definite advantages to having resident cows on your soccer field, namely in the form of free lawn mowing and fertilizing services. However, there were also a couple of challenges. The classroom where we worked with the coaches was right next to the field, and didn’t have the sturdiest door. We arrived to the classroom one morning to find that the cows had spent the night inside, leaving us some “presents” on the floor. A few days later, we watched from the field as someone chased a cow out of our classroom. The cow, who was munching on the flip chart we use to write up our games, seemed unperturbed. One cow also seemed to very much enjoy knocking over cones that Coach Kefhira had just set up. Overall though, our bovine friends were a great source of entertainment throughout the week.

    IMG_3910When we weren’t working with the cows and coaches in the mornings, we were traveling to local schools to run sessions with the kids and their coaches. We had several rainy afternoons on slippery clay fields, and even though their feet and the balls were caked with mud, the kids had a great time. Coach AJ did not prove to be as agile as the children, as she took quite a fall while trying to demonstrate Marta for Conflict Resolution in flats on the wet clay. On Wednesday we traveled to a very rural school on the Ugandan border, and caused quite a stir when we emerged from the van, as many of the kids had never seen a mzungu before. We worked with about 200 kids at once, and made one of the biggest circle of friends CAC has ever seen. On our final day at the schools, Coach Oti facilitated while the TYSA coaches led the session, and did a fantastic job implementing the games they had learned throughout the week. Meanwhile, AJ and Kefhira got awesome new hairdos from the kids, free of charge. And just when we thought our week with TYSA couldn’t get any better, one of the coaches presented us with a farewell gift in the form of a live chicken. She was delicious.

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