Fighting poverty needs both stamina and brains and that is exactly what rugby is all about. That is why Azim Deen is using the sport to empower youth from disadvantaged backgrounds in Nairobi’s informal settlement.
In 2012, Deen founded Shamas Rugby Foundation because he figured that if kids in slums could learn the free flowing game that engages strength, speed and strategy to move a ball into an opponents territory, they could also learn how to tackle poverty to the ground.
William Ferguson, the foundation’s head of operations, speaking on behalf of Azim, says that the reason the organisation settled for rugby was because the sport could easily be used as a tool for equipping the less fortunate children with real life skills, which they can use in their day to day endeavours.
The NGO is currently based in 30 primary schools (both private and public) for boys and girls aged between six and 18. It operates in Nairobi’s major informal settlements, which include Mathare, Korogocho, Mukuru, Kibera and Eastlands and its environs.
“We use rugby as a tool to teach children from different cultures, values and laws so that they can develop respect for the game and respect for each other,” says Ferguson. Rugby, he says motivates and instills positive virtues in kids so that they can make the right decisions in life.
“We also help them change the attitudes they have, where they come from and focus more on molding them to become better and responsible rugby players in the near future,” he added.
Since many of the kids living in the informal settlements face many social challenges such as struggling to complete basic education and living in poor sanitary conditions with no access to healthcare services, they tend to become victims of different forms of abuse.
The fact that they drop out of school early also exposes them to unhealthy practices such as crime, drugs, alcohol and early parenthood. “Our approach gives children confidence to make their own decisions both on the field and off the pitch and never be afraid to make mistakes but learn from them,” said Ferguson.
The foundation tries to help the children by running monthly rugby tournaments and also invites guest clubs and schools to compete. “Each year we take a group of 20 under 13s on an international tour to represent Kenya, the foundation and their communities.
Last year, they went to United Kingdom and in 2013, they visited South Africa. This year we will take 22 players to Bristol in United Kingdom in November,” said Ferguson. He added that some of their first boys who went on tour to Cape Town in 2013 were considered for the Kenyan under 19 team, but missed the opportunity because they were between16-17 years old.
Their captain Maxwell Omondi was given a high school scholarship at Upperhill School and he also plays for Catholic Monks. The foundation wants to set up a secondary school in Nairobi, with a capacity to hold 600 pupils from Form One to Four to enable talented kids to play rugby.
“We want to give opportunities to talented boys and girls to attend a quality high school without paying a fee. We want to teach the kids life skills as they focus on being great future players. We believe this type of school will be beneficial to Kenyan society and will give children a chance to use their rugby talents to overcome poverty,” he said.