A close cluster of mud-walled houses sitting without plan and form welcomes you to Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum and Africa’s largest urban informal settlement.
The settlement sitting on an area of 2.5 kilometres is home to approximately 250,000 people who battle abject poverty, unemployment and crime in equal measures. A populous portion of residents who can afford a decent meal here work in the informal sector.
According to data from the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, only 38% of kids aged three years and above are currently in school or a learning institution, a number that is dominated by girls. 27% of once school-going kids fail to complete their education, the data further shows.
But the gloomy, hope-dented nature that comes to birth with every sunrise in this famous slum is slowly becoming a thing of the past, thanks to Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations’ initiatives and programs going on.
Brainwork of Mercy Migongo
One of those is the Kibera Golden Stars Rugby Program, a brain-work of former Kenya Lionesses star Mercy Migongo, that is continuously spreading smiles, hope and love to young kids in Kibera, through the beautiful game of rugby.
A certified World Rugby Level 1 coach, Migongo had to call time to her illustrious career in both club and national rugby at just the young age of 25 years, to heed her calling of helping young girls from Kibera through a sport that she adores very much.
Migongo who boasts nine caps for the Kenya Lionesses, and an age-grade -rugby program beneficiary herself said it was her drive to spread women’s rugby across the continent and globe coupled with her love for the vulnerable young girls in Kibera that set the ball rolling on the program.
“I have always had a soft spot in my heart for girls and women who want to play rugby, I was looking for ways to help vulnerable girls of Kibera, I am a product of age grade rugby, myself. Felix Oloo, former Kenya Lionesses coach, gave me an opportunity to play rugby and it was time for me to give back as well through coaching and teaching the girls more on life skills.” She said in an interview with The Scrummage Africa.
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“Kibera Golden Stars was a women’s football team of Kibera Black Stars Football Club. I met one of the founders and discussed my passion for sports and rugby, in particular, they were open to the chance I presented and we launched the team in 2019.” She said.
According to Migongo, the program cuts across three age groups namely Under-11, Under-13 and Under-16 with plans already underway to add even more age groups.
Migongo who also serves as the Impala Women’s U-18 Rugby club coach said the lessons from the program stretch far beyond the field, as basic life skills lessons are also offered, including dangers of drug abuse and mental health awareness.
“We not only take them through rugby skills and drills but also basic life skills. The girls understand more about the sexual reproductive health and drug abuse.”
“We are also creating awareness on mental health and creating a safe space and positive environment for the girls to discuss what they go through in their daily lives,” she said.
This, according to her, has been the most positive impact of the program on the young girls of Kibera Slums, aside from receiving small donations of sanitary towels and other products and the team playing in their first ever tournament.
But, as she celebrates the small strides she has achieved with her little girls, she recalls the obstacles and challenges she has had to endure to achieve success during the early days of the birth of the program.
What kept her going through these challenges? Seeing the smiles and the fun on the girls’ faces, big enough to make them forget the possibility of missing a meal when they return home after breaking a sweat in training.
“I have been able to create a mother-daughter relationship with my players. The smiles, talent and passion I see in the girls keeps me wanting to go back and train them, the hunger for success these girls have is on another level,” she pointed out.
The program currently harbours 30 girls in total, and Migongo confirmed it had started participating in age-grade rugby tournaments across Nairobi region.
The government has been on the receiving end of sports fans across the country, for not channelling in enough resources to tap into grass-roots talent, which has seen Kenya fail to make a statement in various sports across the continent and globally.
Some rugby fans either have argued for Kenya to become an international force and end the chase to the maiden Rugby World Cup appearance, serious platforms must be set across by the government, to ensure rugby is introduced to young players in primary school, who will mature to professionals athletes boasting vast experience.
Migongo echoes the sentiments and believes it is the closest path to achieving rugby greatness internationally, for both our men’s and women’s teams.
“These programs are very important, especially in slums where everything can happen. A lot of kids can get a lot of opportunities due to sports. It can help them escape poverty. If we empower a girl we have empowered a whole generation. Also governments hunt for raw talents, invest in them under a special national academy, then we will have better performance track in long-term run years to come internationally,” she said.
Further, she doesn’t shy away from dreaming big while projecting the accomplishment of the program in five years to come. She noted her mission is to reach, help and empower every girl through a sport she holds dear, rugby.
“We are looking to transform the program into a female rugby club and play safe house to young girls and women in Kibera. We want to attract opportunities such as scholarships and in so few years to come, I want to see these girls joining colleges and universities to further their studies. Lastly, we are looking to create an all-round athlete; good in both rugby and life skills.
To potential sponsors she says,” Supporting a girl child means, empowering a whole generation, we are always open for you to meet our kids and see how much potential we have in our communities.”
Name: Kibera Golden Stars Rugby Program
Location: Kibera, Nairobi-Kenya
Founders: Mercy Migongo, World Rugby Level Certified Coach (Former Kenya Lionesses, Nakuru RFC, Kenya Harlequin, Homeboyz, Impala RFC), Kibera Black Stars Football Club
Age Groups: U11, U13, U-16
Current team number: 30