Kenya: Beach Soccer Helps Rescue Youth From Drugs in Lamu

Beach soccer has now become an important game in Lamu County not only for leisure or as a form of exercise but as a way of rescuing young people hooked on drugs.

Also known as beach football, it is a five-a-side game played barefoot on the beach with two referees officiating.

Many young drug addicts in places like Shella, Lamu Town, Matondoni, Pate, Kizingitini, Ndau, Mkokoni, Kiwayu and other islands are reported to have changed their lives for the better just through participating continuously in beach football.

Speaking to Nation.Africa, County Beach Soccer team leader Anwar Masoud said many drug addicts in Lamu have found solace in playing the game, especially because it is free and always lively compared with spending time in rehabilitation centres.

Beach soccer has managed to rescue at least 200 serious drug addicts across Lamu in the past one year, he said.

He said in Shella and Lamu island, for instance, they have persuaded over 100 young drug addicts to leave the dangerous lifestyle by absorbing them into beach soccer activities.

"The same situation has been witnessed in other islands where youth are notoriously abusing drugs. Over 100 drug addicts in places like Pate, Tchundwa, Myabogi, Mbwajumwali and other islands in Lamu East are also on the journey to recovery through beach football," he said.

He added, "The game makes us busy. It occupies and entertains us. We don't have time to think about drugs or any other criminal activities anymore."

Ali Mohamed, a beach soccer player in Lamu, said that nowadays they view beach football as free therapy for drug addicts as most of their active players are young people who formerly used drugs.

Mr Mohamed said their only concern is a lack of support from the government to improve sand football in Lamu.

He urged political leaders, football officials and sport philanthropists to consider forming a local beach soccer league in order to grow the sport in the county.

He expressed hope that once beach football is fully embraced in Lamu, it will play a great role in converting drug addicts into useful citizens.

"We struggle on our own to sustain beach soccer here. We train ourselves, buy the game kits and many other issues. We are jobless and we don't have the funds to buy balls. All relevant authorities have continued to neglect us," Mr Mohamed said.

He says they are at times forced to use buoys as balls.

"We need help from the government and well-wishers now that the game has become a saviour for drug addicts," he said.

Abdallah Saddam, a reformed drug addict and beach footballer in Lamu, described the game as a friendly way of rehabilitating drug addicts, unlike the usual method where they pass through stages, including being isolated in a rehab centre.

"I was a chronic bhang and heroin consumer. I couldn't imagine that at one point, I would leave that lifestyle. My friend Ali Mohamed introduced me to beach soccer," he said.

"After playing, we always engage in discussions about how we should leave positive lives. I am happy. It's my eighth month now without touching any drug."

Haroun Abdallah Ali, another recovering addict who was hooked on heroin for 25 years, also acknowledged beach soccer as among the activities that helped him change his behaviour.

Mr Haroun is in his sixth year since he stopped using heroin.

But he insists that overcoming drugs is a choice.

"Yes, you can play beach soccer or any other game and change your bad lifestyle of drugs provided you have the zeal. Beach soccer was part and parcel of my journey to recovery," he said.

"It distanced me from the usual bad company. I got to interact with young people of a different mindset. I was willing to change. I succeeded. It's a choice."

Hussein Bakari, another recovering drug addict, said after receiving his daily methadone dose at the Lamu King Fahad Hospital methadone centre that he always plays beach soccer and this has had a positive impact on his life.

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop. Instead of taking methadone and idling around, I have formed a habit of playing sand football with friends. I can see it is working well for me. It is the fourth month now since I consumed cocaine," he said.

Ali Omar, a beach soccer fan, called on the Lamu County government's sports department to give beach football the same attention and support as normal football.

"We want beach soccer to be treated the same way as other games," he said.

Maryam Hamisi, an aunt of a drug addict in Lamu, also insisted on the need for sporting activities to be embraced in the region, adding that they provide an easy way to occupy young people so that they don't fall into drug and substance abuse.

Ms Hamisi, however, cited laziness, idleness and joblessness among the youth as key hindrances in the war on drugs in Lamu.

"The battle to end drug abuse among young people in Lamu has yielded little fruit and all this is because most of our youth are idle and unemployed," he said.

"As the government embraces sports activities, it should also consider creating employment for these people so that they are engaged all through."

In an interview with Nation.Africa, Lamu Education, Youth Affairs and Sports executive Paul Thairu said they have embarked on nurturing talent in every aspect of football and other games.

"We've been providing balls and jerseys for clubs participating in various games in Lamu. We have also been awarding the winning teams with trophies and other game kits," he said.

"The main purpose of all this is to ensure we don't lose any of our youth to drugs. Our target is to have games, beach football included, played all year round."

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