High rates of leaving school, teen pregnancy, child prostitution and HIV/AIDS make it difficult for a young girl to enjoy her childhood in Kenya’s Kilifi County. But now many lives are being transformed by the world’s most popular sport.
By Njoki Chege, Kilifi County
“I am very talented in football,” says Mwanaidi Karisa, a 14-year-old girl who plays for Moving the Goalposts Kilifi (MTG). “Our team has even been to Tanzania and Nairobi to compete and we have won several tournaments. I am a striker and occasionally a defender. It is a great past-time for after school and weekends.”
But Mwanaidi is not only playing football, scoring goals and taking home trophies. The MTG Kilifi programme is also weaved with education on various topics such as reproductive health, human rights and economic empowerment initiatives. Many informal savings groups, called chamas, teach young girls how to save money for their own economic empowerment.
Lydia Kasiwa is a 27-year-old peer educator and the health education coordinator for the organization. She joined MTG Kilifi when she was barely 20 and her life was at a crossroads.
“I had just finished my O levels. My elder siblings could not raise my college fees as our parents had passed away earlier. The future looked very dim and the only option was getting married. But I decided otherwise when I discovered this organization. I was good at sports in high school, so I joined,” she says.
At MTG Kilifi, she was introduced to a whole new world of opportunities. With increased confidence, she graduated with a degree in community development at Pwani University College in Kilifi and is currently pursuing a degree in environmental science at the same university.
The local community does, however, still raise their eyebrows to the idea of girls playing football. “The girls are passionate. We love the game and can’t wait for the tournaments to outshine our rivals, but people still don’t believe young girls like us can play football,” says Mwanaidi.
But why football?
Margaret Belewa, MTG Kilifi’s programme manager, believes that there is no better entry point than football into the lives of girls and women between the ages of nine and 25. “Football is both a means and an end. It is a means through which we mobilize the local community, but also an end in the sense that many girls have ended up carving out careers out of football,” says Belewa.