Playing for Peace
Our photographer in Kenya is Clinton Oduor, a former football player and a photographer, and part of the organisation Carolina for Kibera (CFK). Founded in 2001, CFK is an NGO developing local leaders, preventing violence, and alleviating poverty through community-based development and sports in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Clinton told us about the role of football in the lives of young people in Kibera, the CFK Queens girls’ football team, and the ability of football to unite an ethnically diverse nation.
Who is in the photos? Where were the photos taken?
Photos were taken during training sessions and the Carolina for Kibera (CFK) organised inter-schools girls’ soccer tournament, themed ‘Playing for Peace’, at Olympic Primary school. The girls are members of the CFK Queens Under-15 team and the CFK Queens coach is Fredrick Odhiambo. Other photos were taken of boys in Gatwekera (one of the villages in Kibera slum) playing football in the neighborhood during their leisure time, in a church compound, and in community fields in Yatta, Machakos County.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
The photos show how young people spend their free time when they are not in school. They also show the kind of Infrastructure that we have and how soccer is a popular sport among young people here and does not discriminate based on gender. The young people love soccer and a lack of proper equipment or ball will not deter them from enjoying it. They will make use of the locally available materials like plastic bags to make a ball and with the limited space, they will still find a space no matter how small to enjoy they game. There is creativity that young people have in ensuring that they make play possible by making balls out of waste (polythene bags). They also show how sports can be used to bring people together.
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
Coach Fredrick is currently managing a boy’s senior team playing in the Football Kenya Federation Division 2. He has also connected the girls with renowned football schools in Kenya where they are getting free secondary education because of their football talent and will continue to play football. Through football we identify and mold leaders and role models like Coach Fredrick.
Why is football so important for Kenya and Kenyan people?
It brings people together. With soccer we speak the same language even though we all come from 42 different tribes. The teams and fans are ethnically diverse and this clearly shows how football is a powerful tool that can be used to unite people.
What role does football play in Kenya and Kenyan society?
Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Kenya, which drives and attracts the most spectators. Football is a popular sport in most parts of the country, and this is shown by the preoccupation of locals in football across the country in different tournaments. Football is one of the most competitive sports among different regional schools in a locality. The football dominance in Kenya is also seen from the community football clubs in the country such as the Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Mathare United, Bandari FC, Sofapaka, Kariobangi Sharks and Ulinzi Stars, who are associated with the military as they nurture and embrace soccer. It helps in uniting the Kenyan society especially during post-election violence, which is always experienced in every election period. Kenya being an ethnically diverse country with 42 tribes, football makes us speak one language, ‘soccer’.
What does football mean to you?
For me football is life, as it is through the game that I connect with people from different ethnic groups and it makes me embrace everyone around me despite their tribal affiliation.
How was Carolina for Kibera started?
CFK was born out of an unlikely friendship between Rye Barcott, Tabitha Festo, and Salim Mohamed in the summer of 2000. The mix of an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, a widowed nurse, and a community organizer created a power team capable of bringing about change in Kibera.
Bringing their diverse experiences to the table, each co-founder found ways to channel their passions through CFK. As a U.S. Marine and a student, Rye understood the importance of both protecting residents from violence and advocating for education. As a nurse and Kibera resident, Tabitha understood the daily struggles that Kiberans faced and sought to provide better access to health care across the settlement. And through his work with MYSA, the largest youth sports program in Africa, Salim understood the value that sports could bring to rally the youth towards a common course, which at that time was uniting the different ethnic communities for change.
For over 17 years, our sports program has kept the community together even as the social fabric and peace was threatened by the 2007, 2013, and the 2017 elections. We have been teaching more than just sports. We have been helping to build peace with boys and girls from varying ethnic backgrounds as they learn how to rely on their teammates and develop healthy friendships with one another. Players also improve their self-confidence and learn valuable lessons about leadership, fairness, and gender equality. We are looking forward to using the same platform to reduce drugs and substance abuse, crime prevention and sexual and gender based violence.
What is the future for Kenyan football?
The future is bright for the upcoming stars. Grassroots football is being given recognition and for the first time in Kenyan history the Government has established a Sports fund that is geared towards promoting local talents within the leagues and schools, and also capacity building for coaches and referees.
Organisations such as SportPesa and Safaricom with the Chapa Dimba initiative have also come in to try to support local talents, though there is a lot that needs to be done still. A good number of football players are now playing across Africa, Asia and Europe, a clear indication that the sport is growing. The SportPesa partnership has seen our local players get exposure and visit Everton, where they learnt a lot. We are hoping many more grassroots teams will get a similar opportunity.