Kenya: Kimathi Lioness FC - Beacon of Hope for Vulnerable Nakuru Slum Girls

As you approach the bare open sports grounds at Kimathi slums in Nakuru Town East a whirlwind of dust spins round in the air as girls play football.

These are school going girls from Kimathi and Flamingo slums engaging in football activities and shaping their well-being and future by avoiding negative peer pressure which usually results in pregnancy and diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The two densely populated slums are considered the most dangerous places to be a female as they are home to the deadly gang popularly known as 'Confirm' which has been swindling Kenyans money through mobile phone transactions.

These two slums have many temptations for poor girls waiting to steal their future and destroy their most valuable possessions which are self-worth and education.

It is because of these imminent threats that youthful coach Simon Ngare - concerned about how school-going children especially teenage girls lives have been ruined by teen pregnancies - decided to start Kimathi Lioness Football Club in December 2015.

"I decided to take the initiative to enlighten teenage girls on how to keep their lives safe through teenage pregnancy awareness programmes passed through football," says the 35-year-old Ngare.

"Teenage pregnancy is rampant in these two slums and is a barrier to education, and thus educating young girls about its dangers through football is one way to lay a firm foundation to their education," Ngare noted.

He added: "The initiative has prevented teenage pregnancy and dismantled the girls' barriers to attaining education, and keeping them safe as they pass through adolescence."

Ngare, who is a former Ushuru FC player, says when girls are aware and enlightened on how to handle the challenges around them, their future and success becomes certain, and football is one of the best ways to achieve this.

The team that started with 15 girls has attracted over 50 school girls from neighbouring schools such as Kimathi Secondary, Kimathi Primary, Lake View Primary, Flamingo Primary, Pangani Primary and Flamingo Secondary Schools among others.

Many parents who were opposed to the idea are amazed at how young girls have embraced football - a game traditionally considered a preserve for boys.

At the end of the game, the girls gather around for an interactive chat with the coach and guests who grace the training session.

"I remind the girls that playing promotes healthy bodies and minds. But most importantly, I don't forget to tell them about the dangers of teenage pregnancy and how to stay away from it," says Ngare.

According to Ngare, young girls in the two slums tend to face different social challenges, especially during the holidays, thus educating them about teen pregnancy through football is a good way to protect them.

"Engaging young girls in football is one way to remind them to spend their free time in things that build their lives and shape their future. This helps them shun activities that might compromise their future such as early pregnancies," said Ngare.

Ngare, who is also a former National Super League side St Joseph FC, reminds the girls to avoid people who tempt them to engage in immoral behaviours, as well as activities that compromise their dignity and future goals.

As young girls from different communities with big dreams, they have become the ambassadors of change in the neighbouring estates such as Lake View and Pangani.

"The girls spread the message of 'Say no to teen pregnancy' and report to me any cases of sexual abuse which in some instances parents would hide," he said.

The two slums are hotspots for violence but football has brought immense unity and has produced some of the top football players such as Kenyan international and former Gor Mahia defender David 'Calabar' Owino, Bandari's Bernard Odhiambo, Wyne Odhiambo and Joel Bataro who turned out for Kenya Under-20 team among others.

"Playing football has brought happiness and positive energy. Football has offered young girls an opportunity to share good ideas, stay motivated and help each other to address their daily challenges," explained Ngare.

Parents welcome the initiative and are delighted as football help their children to experience growth, and keeps them busy during the holidays.

"Many parents are busy trying to make ends meet and I believe the lessons that children acquire while playing football helps them learn several life lessons," explained David Wandera, a father of three primary school children.

Coach Ngare who is also an acclaimed artist says he invites special guests to teach girls about reproductive health, as one way of helping to prevent cases of teenage pregnancy, among other related negative effects.

Girls who spoke to Nation Sport said the experience has enlightened them about the value of self-worth. Besides playing football, it has introduced them to different moral lessons such as teamwork, togetherness and friendship.

"I learned that is through football that we can keep ourselves busy and productive during the holidays. I also learned the importance of sharing our experiences with our parents, and most importantly, why we must stay away from immoral activities," said Mercy Akinyi, a defender and Form Two student at Kimathi Secondary School.

"Playing football has helped me gain more insight into the benefits of engaging in sports activities. I have learnt about the dangers of teenage pregnancy and how to stay safe during the holidays," said captain Mitchell Akinyi, a utility player and Form One student at Flamingo Secondary School.

"Playing football has helped me to know about the consequences of teenage pregnancy such as dropping out of school, which is something as students we should avoid in all ways. I realised the value of self-worth and how it builds and promotes the spirit of responsibility, discipline and confidence in an individual," said goalkeeper Mary Wairimu.

"Coach Ngare reminds us daily that the first cause of teenage pregnancy and other immoral activities is the influence of negative peer pressure, which we shouldn't give room in our lives. I pledged to only keep disciplined and responsible friends," said Samantha Njeri.

"I have learned to communicate well with my parents, and share everything that is in my mind with them," said lethal striker Florence Sifuna who is a Standard Seven pupil at Kenyatta Primary School.

Other team players include Valentine Omar, Agnes Sifuna, Julden Bosibori, Mercy Line, Elizabeth Nduta, Benevela Imende, Mildred Dian, Mary Oduor, Celina Mbone, Hellena Mukabi and Julian Njoki.

The team trains on Saturday and Sunday from 4pm to 6pm on weekdays while on weekends training starts at 4pm.

The team faces many challenges and top on their wish list is finances, training items such as footballs, training jerseys and boots among others.

But not all girl in the slum qualifies to join the team.

"I emphasise on education and all girls must be school-going. I follow their performance in schools and when the schools close they must come with report forms which I photocopy and file for monitoring," says Ngare.

"I'm proud that this has improved their academic performance and behaviour change. Parents are now happy," he offers.

The team plans to join Nakuru County League next season if they get a sponsor.

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