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Benson Salem: The rise from Kibera to playing for Kenya 7s in World 7s Series

Nondies Benson Salem in action against KCB. Photo Courtesy/Denis Acre-half.
Nondies Benson Salem in action against KCB. Photo Courtesy/Denis Acre-half.

Benson Salem, aged 23, is slowly becoming a household name at Kenya Cup side Nondies.  His prowess on the pitch has earned him a spot in the Kenya 7s.

Scrummage Africa caught up with the Nondies back, who aspires to be an Olympian and play rugby at the highest level.

BACKGROUND

He was born and raised in Nairobi’s Kibera neighbourhood. Salem recalls childhood memories from the grounds of the Harlequins, which now house the Alfa fit gym. Football was the first love for the Kenya 7s international. However, training near a rugby pitch piqued his interest in the odd-shaped ball. He mentions missing football practice to sneak in and watch players train.

“I was born and raised in Kibera, used to play football at Harlequins where we now have the Alfa Fit Gym. I just developed an interest in knowing what rugby was all about because it was just on the other side of the fence (RFUEA). I would sometimes miss my football training sessions and sneak in just to go watch people play.”

Benson Salem in action at Dagoreti Photo Courtesy/Salem

MOVE TO RUGBY

Salem was initially hesitant, most likely due to his small stature and the fear of being selected for the team, as both rugby and football training times clashed. He did, however, succumb to his curiosity and decided to play rugby. Salem says that he began rugby with a few friends from the neighborhood and that the rest has been a rollercoaster of events.

“And so it was like that for a couple of weekends until one day, I decided to give it a try. Started with a couple of friends from my hood, some lost interest, some went back to playing football, some are still playing, and some quit. The difficult part about when I was starting was that I had to decide to choose between playing rugby and football because both pieces of training were done on the same day and timings.”

MAJOR RUGBY ACHIEVEMENTS IN HIGH SCHOOL

Salem began playing serious and competitive rugby at Dagoretti High School, where he completed his secondary education. In 2018, he helped the school reach the National Rugby level while still in Form Three. That year, Dagoretti High School won the Damu Pevu and was promoted to the Prescott Cup.

“I went to Dagoretti high school. Managed to play up to the Nationals rugby 7s level in 2018 when I was in form 3. And that same year we won the Damu Pevu and got promoted to Prescott cup.”

Benson Salem at Shamas Foundation. Photo Courtesy/ Salem

Benson Salem at Shamas Foundation. Photo Courtesy/ Salem

Salem was a member of the squad that also helped Dagoretti High reach the maiden East African competition in rugby 15s and finished second. The youngster described 2019 as his best year in high school because Dagoretti High made its East African debut.

“And then in 2019 we reached the East African level in rugby 15s and were position 2. This was also my best year because it was our first time as a school to reach the East African level,” Salem revealed.

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EXPERIENCE WITH THE NATIONAL TEAM

The Prinsloo 7s Top points Scorer previously played for Shamas Rugby Foundation before joining the Nondies.

“I used to play for Shamas Rugby Foundation before joining Nondescripts Rugby Football Club.”

Salem was part of the Kenya 7s squad that travelled to Toulouse for the Toulouse 7s and it was here that he made his World Series.

He went ahead to play in six matches, scoring two tries and one conversion for Shujaa.

He describes his national team experience as ‘great,’ with the bonus of being on the pitch with some of his role models.

“My experience with the national team for the past two years has been great. Playing with the same people that I have been looking up to has been a great achievement for me”.

Being in the national team for two years alongside big names has also helped him develop as a player.

“I’ve also learned a lot this past two years and grown as an individual in the game.”

LESSONS LEARNT SO FAR

The game, according to Salem, has taught him a lot about life. Growing up in the Kibera Slums exposed him to numerous dangers, which he was able to overcome thanks to the lessons he learned from rugby. He also stated that he spends the majority of his time in the rugby community.

“Rugby has taught me so much about life. It has helped me overcome a lot outside the pitch despite growing up in a place where I was exposed to a lot of dangers. And this is because most of my time was spent or rather is spent in the rugby community.”

He added, “The number one value that rugby has taught me is about trusting the process and the process is all about finishing workouts, finishing runs, finishing plays, finishing training sessions, and finishing the smallest task you have in front of you and finishing it well.”

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENTS

“My biggest achievement so far was making my debut in France at the World Series level and winning the safari sevens last year (2021),” Salem stated.

The prospect of becoming an Olympian in the future excites the youngster, who also hopes to compete in the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup.

“My future targets are; being an Olympian, playing at the commonwealth games and World Cup.”

WHAT HE LOVES ABOUT RUGBY

Rugby is a family sport, according to Salem. The back told Scrummage Africa that rugby provided him with some of the best moments of his life as well as long-lasting friendships.

“What in I love most about the game is that it’s a family sport. Rugby has given me some of the best moments in my life and it’s started friendships that will never end.”

Benson Salem fact file 

Name: Benson Salem

Nickname: Magical Salem

Weight: 75kgs

School: Dagoretti High School

Club: Shamas Rugby, Nondescripts RFC

National 7s debut: Toulouse, London 7’s

Awards: Prinsloo Top Points Scorer

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