Globally sports have been recognised as a unifier to the world, it has shown that it has the power to heal old wounds and unite enemies.
This was witnessed in 1996 when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup, the moment ignited the passion for unity and patriotism among the black and white South Africans and for a moment, the world saw a united South Africa.
The founding father, the late Nelson Mandela stepped into the stadium wearing the Springbok’s jersey number 6 amidst cheers and jubilation from the fans, a sign that apartheid has ended and a new country was emerging.
History would repeat itself for the Rainbow nation when they became the first African nation to host the FIFA 2010 World Cup where football united the continent and world at large.
It is in this power of sport that has propelled the Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies, and in partnership with National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) to fight drug abuse in Kirinyaga County through the football tournament.
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“In this world, there are two activities that can transform society, Sports and Music. Sports have a way of promoting social cohesion and positive thinking and behaviour among young people. It promotes a healthy lifestyle and well-being. If we are to continue supporting and promoting youth participation in sports, it will go a long way in ensuring that young are prevented from engaging in social ills like drugs and substance abuse, “says Eston Murithi CEO, KENDAT.
He added that the organisation has been implementing a behaviour change project in Kirinyaga through the football tournament.
“One of the main objectives of the tournament is to fight drug and alcohol abuse among young donkey owners in Kirinyaga to improve donkey welfare such as a reduction in whipping of donkeys brought about by the young donkey users using drugs. We have been implementing this project in partnership with NACADA who have supported in offering training on Alcohol and Drug abuse and positive parenting. This has reached close to 500 young donkey owners and users who have changed their social behaviour and has seen donkey welfare improving in Kirinyaga County.”
Among the beneficiaries of this initiative are John Waweru and William Maina who are team members of Ndorome Donkey Riders Football Club in Kirinyaga County.
“Drug abuse is a major problem in our county and especially the youth aged between 10-25 years are into hard khat, inhalants, prescription drugs (sedatives or sleeping pills, morphine, codeine, pethidine), and synthetic drugs (amphetamine and hallucinogens). They waste whatever little money they have into drugs and when they cannot afford them, they engage in criminal activities,” says Maina.
John Waweru who is also the team captain and chairperson of the 25-member team also revealed that the partnership is slowly transforming lives among the rural farmers.
“Nowadays our youth are busy; during the day they are using the donkeys to make a living through transportation of rice from farmlands to millers, fetching water and also transporting building materials to construction sites. In the evening, they are practising for weekend football games and this has helped them to be focused in life hence some have fully transformed. They now are responsible people in the society,” comments Waweru.
According to Amos Warui, NACADA, Central Region Manager, the state agency has employed various strategies to reach and train youth on the dangers of Alcohol and Drugs Abuse (ADA) in their lives.
“We use youth appealing activities including sports like football tournaments, seminars and workshops, social media including Twitter and Facebook, direct engagements with youth groups, reaching youths through religious forums, radio and TV shows and barazas. We also have anti-ADA champions within the communities who work closely with the youth. Through a partnership with other organizations whose programs target youth. Our training covers life skills required to resist drug use through peer pressure and negative role modeling/ influence, positive parenting, effects of drugs in their lives and communities, and the socio-economic consequences of drug use among other areas of training.”
Zachary Nyakono a village elder in Ndorome Area narrates how the drug menace was slowly turning vibrant youth into zombies.
“Every morning I will watch young boys engage themselves in drugs and all they could do is to sleep the whole day at illicit brew dens, this was worrying since they were wasting their lives away,” laments Nyakono.
Through the tournament, the participating teams have been able to learn about the importance of the donkey as a source of livelihood.
“When I joined the group, one of the requirements was that I must own a donkey and I have learned a lot in terms of caring for the animal which has enabled me to earn a decent living for myself. The other thing is that we are the donkey ambassadors in our community and we champion the rights of these animals, anyone found mistreating them is penalized by taking the donkey away from them. Am glad the local chief has also embraced this initiative and also the illicit brewers have abandoned the trade and are engaging in donkey rearing as a new avenue for generating income” comments Maina.
One of the pillars of the partnership is to scale up the effort in combating drug abuse among the youth especially in informal urban settlements and rural Kenya.
Warui adds that “This is not just our war but we must come together and end this vice, yes as a country we are on the right path in combating drug abuse. With sustained and collaborative efforts, we are making strides. Overall, everyone has a role to play in the fight against ADA and we encourage the youth to take personal responsibility for their lives by making the right choices which will not endanger their lives by getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse”.
The participating teams in the Donkey Welfare Football Tournament are not only ranked based on the number of matches won but also on the welfare status of their donkeys. The donkey welfare assessment looks at the body condition, presence/ absence of wounds, and general demeanour of the donkeys. Donkeys who are whipped often tend to be more aggressive due to harsh handling practices. Winning teams are awarded donkeys, football kits, and a trophy. The donkeys are used for group donkey breeding projects and work.