First published in 2014
It is a cold evening on ImaraDaima's dusty recreation ground but that has not stopped dozens of youth getting together to play the beautiful game in Nairobi’s most troubled landmass, Embakasi.
Tough-looking young men grunt as they do push-ups, while others celebrate every goal as if it were a winner at a World Cup final. But the various coaches at this training session are not expecting to unearth the next Victor Wanyama.
Instead, they are here with a mission. To get these young men doing something constructive as part of Pallister Mukaka’s Streets Football project.
Chat with any hooded youth on any street corner in Embakasi and you will hear one response: "during the evening,we have absolutely nothing to do around here. Go elsewhere in the countryand while accents differ, the sentiment is the same. Anthony Masika, the team manager of Imara F.C. is one of those attempting to correct the situation.
"Many gifted young men lie idle because they lack things to do. We try to have a positive effect on them by engaging with them proactively”.
"When we have a tournament, depending on the behavior, we will choose the players who we feel have the right attitude and discipline,” adds Masika.
These initiatives are held in Embakasi’s most deprived areas like Mukuru-Kwa-Reuben to the more leafy suburbs of ImaraDaima, Tumaini and Fedha estates. The Pallister Mukaka Cup is not only being used to combat anti-social behavior and promote social integration, but it also provides a platform of community involvement and participation in youth development.
“Street football helps young people in working on their social skills. They don't realize it but they are working harmoniously as part of a team and contributing meaningfully to the society”, says Masika who has been pulling hundreds of young men for years off the streets and training them to take out their aggressions in the confines of the pitch.
“When they come to us, they're cocky and often indulge in hard drugs and gangs, but after successful integration, they become responsible and continue to coexist peacefully beyond the tournament period”.
However, this pitch therapy has its fair share of challenges. Getting sponsorship is usually frustrating considering that they only get small donations from neighborhood associations.Injuries to players are also a cause for concern since they lack the means for treatment.Despite all the drawbacks,several well-wishers have tried to assist in championing their cause. Former AFC Leopards and GorMahia forward, Demonde Selenga, usually takes time off to train the squad. Frasha, a member of the popular hip-hop group P-Unit, has also assisted in acquiring training gear and balls.
“Football helps in improving self-esteem and aids in developing a newfound confidence,” says Evans, the Tumaini F.C. captain who believes that football has the magnetism to draw some of his colleagues from the harsh streets and into the field. “It helps in the empowerment and social connection of ‘vulnerable’ youth residing in underprivileged urban slums, that’s why they value this programme”.
The tournament, which kicked off in early September, is poised to end in December with the top three winners sharing Kshs. 70,000 accordingly.Nevertheless, at the end of the day, everyone’s a winner. They may not necessarily reduce the rate of crime, but those behind this initiative know that every minute a young man dribbles the ball in the field, they are away from the temptations of drugs and petty crime.