By Tabitha Nderitu,Womens Feature Service
Nairobi (Women’s Feature Service) – Wiry and athletic Edith Nyawira, 22, is running around attending to customers at a cyber cafe situated along Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street. As the customers thin out a little, I ask the youngster whether she is a football fan like other Kenyan youngsters glued to their TV sets soaking in the FIFA World Cup action. Her reply is instantaneous, “Of course! I am rooting for the German team during World Cup.”
Soccer fever has gripped Kenya, much like other African nations, because it is for the first time that the greatest football carnival in the world has come to Africa. Those who can afford to travel to South Africa have booked their tickets and put aside money for travel expenses, especially for the major matches later in the tournament. Others are catching the live action on their television.
In the vast slum areas of the capital, the scenario is no different. While most of the people here don’t have television sets in their homes, they make sure to be part of crowds outside local electronic stores to catch the various matches.
Nyawira hails from the Mathare slum area of Nairobi. She is devastated that German soccer captain, Michael Ballack, has been forced out of the FIFA World Cup because of an ankle injury. Nevertheless, she is an avowed Germany fan and has plans to religiously follow her favourite team’s progress through the tournament.
Turns out that young Nyawira has another connection with football: She plays for the Mathare United Football Club (MUFC), an auxiliary of the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). The MYSA has been feted globally for helping slum children find a direction in life, through engagement in contact sports, notably soccer.
But why is Nyawira rooting for the Germans? Shouldn’t she be supporting the African nations that are participants at this World Cup, teams like South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria? After pausing a while to consider the question, Nyawira says, “I root for Germany because the German government is involved in transforming our lives here in the slum.”
Incidentally, Nyawira is not the only die-hard German fan in Kenya. Nyawira’s team-mates, Milka Muthoni and Veronicah Achieng, 22, wholeheartedly support Germany as they feel that unlike other teams the Germans mean business on the field. “They do not do fancy things on the pitch; technically they posses a clinical finish and that is what matters,” says Mathare, 23.
Who are their favourites on the team? Nyawira supports striker Lukas Padolski because “he is 25 years old and despite not been famous he displays quality soccer unlike other strikers who are interested in hogging the limelight”. Muthoni, on the other hand, favours Thomas Mueller as “he is a winger just like me and he is handsome”.
Just like Nyawira and her friends, there are many young girls and women in Mathare rooting for Germany’s success. This is because the German government has had long-standing links with marginalised communities in Kenya, especially those living in informal urban settlements. By providing badly needed infrastructure, including educational opportunities for talented kids through its developmental agency, GTZ, it has made a difference on the ground in these shanty towns.
Take Doreen Nabwire Omondi, 25. Omondi, a MYSA prodigy, created history last year when she successfully became a professional international soccer player. Werder Bremen, a German football team, assimilated her within its ranks.
As a child, Omondi used to kick around cans in her slum neighbourhood of wooden huts. But this talented footballer, who has also done a stint as a social worker in the very slums she grew up in, caught the eye of the big guys when she participated in the First Street Football World Championship in Berlin, winning the title with her MYSA team. At a UN conference in Nairobi, Willi Lemke, Werder Supervisory Board Chairman, was all praise for Omondi, “When I heard about this woman, I definitely wanted to meet her. And even at the first meeting, she impressed me very much. It was clear right away that Werder was exactly the right location for her.”
Today, Omondi is a role model for many girls in Mathare, including Nyawira. They all feel that MYSA and GTZ have greatly contributed to making Omondi’s dreams come true, and could do the same for them. Says Nyawira, her eyes gleaming, “I will forever support the German World Cup team. And I will not rest until I join the ranks of professional footballers like Doreen, who is my role model.”
Even Muthoni hopes to do her family proud and earn a good living by playing professionally like Omondi. “I am paid some money after a match and I can earn much, much more if I one day turn professional. I will then be able to assist my mother to move to a better place,” she says.
Nyawira, Muthoni and Achieng also appreciate all of the MYSA’s efforts to facilitate and encourage their love for the game. In fact, the club has also provided televisions on their facility so that after school the girls can watch the matches together.
According to official statistics, Nairobi has an estimated population of four million people with 80 per cent, or 3.6 million, living in informal settlements within the city. These settlements, housing the very poor, suffer from a dearth of basic infrastructure like decent housing, medical facilities, adequately equipped educational and training institutions, recreation centres and even something as basic as security.
Bob Munroe, the Chairman of MYSA, underlines how crucial the German assistance has been, “The state of penury in these informal settlements affects women more than men. So from a practical point of view it may look like a godsend when an organisation such as the GTZ and, by extension, the German state, provides the spirit and the tools to transform the lives of people who had very little going for them.”
Mary Adongo, 36, a single mother of four who has been living with HIV/AIDS, lives in Mathare in a shack made from flattened tin. Four years ago, her live-in male companion deserted her after admitting that he too was suffering from the disease. In fact, he succumbed to the disease two years later. Says Adongo, “When Jackstone abandoned me I felt used and useless. The disease (HIV/AIDS) only exacerbated the pain. At one stage I even thought of committing suicide but thank God I held back. One day a niece informed me that I could manage the disease. She told me that a medical clinic run by a German organisation in the slum was offering free medicine (anti-retroviral drugs), counselling and information. After visiting the clinic, my life has improved immeasurably.”
So is Adongo also supporting the German team this World Cup? “Watching football is not a priority for me but I am very grateful for what that clinic has done for me. It has transformed my life. Now I am focused on ensuring that at least my children don’t have to undergo what I have experienced in life,” she says.
In the slums of Nairobi, German generosity has translated into local support for the German team. Although the English Premier League may have a greater following when compared to the German Budesliga (local league championships), when the FIFA World Cup is on, it is the German team that remains everybody’s favourite.