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.