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Power clubs changing girls’ lives

By | March 24th 2010

Brenda Kageni

With the many challenges of youth and growing up, one of the main missing elements has been proper mentorship for young people. Some young people are lucky to have older siblings, parents, relatives or teachers whom they can approach for support during tumultuous periods in their lives. But what happens to those who do not have such support systems?

According to Dr Liz Odera, the director, Sadili Oval Sports Club, Langata, many of these, especially girls, end up falling by the wayside.

"Girls are lost because they are not mentored. Most of the issues they have later in life are because they lacked mentorship at the formative stages. Most schools do not have strong counselling departments."

From left, Aaliyah Bashir, Winnie Akaaka, Lynah Mwenda, Aziza Butoi and Chizi Mutsumi, all members of Girl Power clubs. [PHOTOS: JENIPHER WACIE/STANDARD]

Odera is particularly concerned that this is the period when the girls’ bodies are going through so much change and most girls are not comfortable with these changes, yet no one is there to talk to them on how to handle themselves during such times, how to handle their moods and how to accept the changes.

Change agents

In order to reach out to young people, Odera decided that since sport is one of the things that everybody enjoyed and that brings people together, she was going to use it to reach out to young people. In 2001, with the help of a grant from Sport for Life, was born a sports academy that was meant to be an extension of Sadili to the underprivileged communities, targeting both girls and boys. Sadili would provide coaches and where lacking, equipment and facilities, to help interested young people participate in a sport of their choice while being mentored.

"We knew it was possible to excel in books and sports, but you needed mentoring."

The girls improved as a result of taking part in the sports. Academically their grades improved and their self-confidence, too, improved. But it was always the boys who shone more, and who took up more time at the sport facilities provided by Sadili.

Odera knew that to turn this round, she had to specifically train and mentor the girls.

Out of that grew the Girl Power clubs. The goal was to nurture girls as agents of positive change through sport. Issues that would be addressed included action against violence, exploring personal abilities, developing healthy lifestyles, building self-esteem, creating role models and taking leadership roles in the community. Twenty-three schools, 13 of them in Kibera and 16 of them high schools, became part of the programme.

"The Girl Power clubs started out of necessity. We wanted girls to get involved in stuff. In high school, girls become such lay-abouts; their work is to escort each other up and down. The girl who stands out as different often doesn’t have friends and will need a lot of support to get out the leader in her," Odera explained.

Club patrons

Ladies started volunteering to help with the girl groups. A girl power conference was set up that addressed topics that affect girls targeting those in upper primary and high school. Once a year girls from different schools in the city across board meet and Sadili brings in experts from different fields to talk to them.

"It is a leadership programme, therefore, it is not open to all girls in a school. But you do not have to be good in sports. You just have to be willing to take part."

A club is expected to meet once a week for play, discussions on topics and to mentor each other. During the first term of the year, Sadili Oval concentrates on training the teachers who serve as patrons for the clubs and the girls get to select a sport they are interested in. During the second term, clubs pick a project to run and Sadili offers the seed money. A project, which ought to be run like a business complete with a plan, should benefit the club and the community and, if possible, make more money.

Odera, however, clarifies: "We are not there to make them a perfect team. We want them to concentrate more on building character."

Stars have been born out of the programme. The girls’ rugby team from Mauno, a school in Kibera, has been winning trophies for the school. Another girl, Aziza Butoi, is a national tennis player and is a triple champion in this year’s Kenya Open. Having just completed high school, she hopes tennis can open the doors for a sports scholarship for college education.

Another girl, Winnie Akaaka, runs a centre in Kibera where she trains under 10s in tennis and basketball. She has a team of 20. Akaaka, who says she previously just enjoyed playing football with the boys, has learnt to mix and identify with the girls, to know her goals and to aim higher.

At the centre in Kibera, she has the opportunity to not only train the younger girls in the sport, but also to talk to them, advise them and teach them hygiene and environmental awareness.

"Sport does a lot of positive things for people," adds Odera. "When you learn sports, you learn how to manage your body. It takes discipline to turn up consistently and learn.

Create goals

"It teaches you basic self-achievement. You start to create goals, personal as well as a team. You learn to give and take, and that you have to let go of some things for the sake of the team. The pressures from different angles teach you to plan your time.

"It teaches you to plan your life. We know that sport works."

Aaliyah Bashir, a student at Malezi School, Lang’ata, says she has learnt to be more outspoken and self-disciplined. In the meetings, they get to learn to build their self-esteem and discuss the problems girls face, such as dealing with menstruation, rape and lesbianism in schools. Her colleague Chizi Mutsumi adds: "It has helped me to see what I am on the inside, and boosted my confidence and courage."

Lynah Mwenda, the vice chair of Malezi’s club says: "We have learnt that we are not small; we are important to the society; that we should try to help in any sort of way."

Odera says the clubs have a huge benefit especially for girls in mixed schools, giving an example of Karen C Secondary where girls make up less than ten per cent of the school population, yet they now have a voice.

"The Girl Power clubs have taken over the roles of buying and keeping sanitary pads, mentoring girls, fighting for the girls as a group and teaching them how to handle pressure from boys. They are now being taken seriously even by the administration. The boys are now demanding for their own clubs now that the girls’ clubs are so strong."

She concludes: "The girls are giving each other serious support. Without the clubs, those girls would be in serious trouble."

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