KENYA: Using sports to improve lives

Monday, November 27, 2006
Sport is a good tool for changing impoverished lives, two former international sportsmen said on Wednesday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Marcel Desailly, a former captain of the French national football team, said that through sports, youth become empowered to fight for their lives in the face of drugs and violence rampant in the slums. "When the children are on the field, they are provided with an opportunity to get away from harmful influence," he added.

Desailly and Michael Johnson, a five-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter, are in the country to motivate young people living in the slums.

Johnson told the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) in Nairobi: "There are people who have made it in life through sport."

Sports have the ability to inspire youth living in difficult circumstances, Desailly added. "Sports, education and discipline go hand-in-hand," he said. "Sports also instill a sense of competition in the participants."

Kenyan Bob Munro founded MYSA in 1987. So far it has helped 17,000 youths from 16 slum areas in Nairobi. The youths are involved in slum clean-up efforts, HIV/AIDS awareness creation and leadership award schemes.

While football is important, Munro said, emphasis is also placed on community service.

The chairman of the MYSA Executive Council, Ndichu Ngethe, said that to motivate members, points are awarded for every community service activity in which they are involved. These are then tabulated annually; those with the highest points win academic scholarships, providing an example of how sports can be used as a mobilisation tool for community development in the slums, Ngethe added.

Desailly and Johnson are members of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which focuses on football to encourage community cooperation, raise self-esteem and promote physical and environmental health. They will also be visiting Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
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