Wednesday May 17, 2017
'Kids are going to school because of football': How a Canadian gave Kenyan youth a future
more stories from this episode
Thirty years ago, Bob Munro, a Canadian public servant, started the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) — a small soccer league for youth in the slums of Nairobi. In addition to practising and playing soccer, the youth-led organization required participants to do community service.
"We said that every team had to do at least two garbage cleanups per year because the garbage is a killer." says Munro.
"Rain washes through garbage and waste and kids get sick with cholera, and typhoid and they die. So the garbage cleanup was to save lives."
Munro says that MYSA is the only soccer league he knows that tracks wins, losses, draws and garbage.
Three decades ago when it launched, MYSA had 21 teams. Today, it has 1,800 teams and hundreds of thousands of Kenyans have come through the program.
Unlike many other development projects, MYSA is run by the community it serves.
"MYSA is an organization that does not hire from outside," says Maqulate Onyango, who joined the soccer league when she was nine-years-old and now works for the organization.
"We employ our people from the slums because they have the passion to do the job."
Onyango says MYSA has transformed the life of her entire family.
"I remember when I first got employed in 2000, I moved my parents from Mathare. They're still in the slums, but they're not in Mathare slums. They are in a better place now. We used to live in a mud house, now we are in a stone house."
Onyango uses part of her salary from MYSA to to send her younger brothers to school.
"When we sit with my family at a round table to talk, they can't believe that they are eating football and sleeping football and their kids are going to school because of football. Up to today for us, it's still a dream and my dad even today asks me this football thing I didn't know that it can change somebody's life," she says.
As MYSA marks its 30th anniversary, it has a growing list of successful alumnae. Some players have gone on to professional teams in Europe. MYSA has its own professional team in Kenya. Others have gone on to careers in business and education.
George Ndiritu is one of Nairobi's notable young activists. He's also a musician and a writer. He says he learned invaluable lessons as a little kid on a soccer team with MYSA
"When I was a young kid, you know, meeting Bob, in the 90's he always kept telling us that, you know, one day MYSA will produce leaders for this country," says Ndiritu.
"I think that's what many of us are becoming."
Listen to the full documentary at the top of this web post.
This documentary was produced by freelance journalist Dick Gordon and The Current's documentary editor Josh Bloch.