I was pleased and proud when I heard that the main Global Observance of this year’s World Cities Day was being co-hosted by Kenya from Nakuru today Saturday October 31, 2020. This is a first for Africa. And I was particularly interested because the theme this year is “valuing our communities and cities” – a subject close to my heart.
Our local communities have proven to be a Godsend for so many of us. This is true in our poor urban areas and slums where neighbours help each other with food and support, religious groups, youth and women’s organizations all provide critical help to those with little or no resources of their own. And this has helped so many desperate people during the COVID pandemic.
I personally know the value of communities as I grew up in the poor neighbourhood of Muthurua in Nairobi. Resources were scarce all round but through the spirit of the community, I never lacked a thing. It is this spirit that enabled me to harness my skills as an athlete. The values I was taught as a young boy have stayed with me throughout my professional football career. Simply put, without the support of our community I would never have been able to make it as an international footballer.
I also believe in the importance of giving back to the community. This is why I have worked with UN-Habitat which is the United Nations agency which works on making our cities and towns better places for everyone to live in. Through UN-Habitat, my Foundation has provided 9,000 masks free of charge to protect people against COVID-19.
As a young boy, growing up in a slum, I quickly realized that having a roof over your head is vital not just for your physical health but also for your mental health. It was not easy living in a congested area. Access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities was greatly challenging.
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Having at least two meals a day was never guaranteed. My siblings and I struggled to focus on our education and football training sessions. Sometimes we were not able to make it to school, as we had to go and help our parents to sell groundnuts and fruits by the roadside in order to raise funds for our school fees and food. Yet, despite all these challenges around me, my community proved to be the pillar against which I was able to launch my football career
Shelter, food and clothing are basic needs, which should NEVER be considered as privileges in these poor neighbourhoods. My foundation and its partners, through local community organisations has labored to construct decent houses for families in the community of Korogocho.
We are particularly proud to have been able to provide shelters for these disadvantaged people especially in light of this Covid-19 pandemic. Our success in this project is a clear indication of how much can be achieved with very limited resources when the community works together.
With this project we aim to change the lives of many disadvantaged children in the Korogocho slum and beyond. We seek to provide them with shelter, give them the opportunity to have a settled mind and to enjoy their childhood. We would like to build houses for at least 200 more families in the slums of Kenya.
We are still very keen to support communities around the country by empowering the youth. When empowered, a bright future is guaranteed. So far, my foundation has awarded 10 needy students full high school scholarships. Through careful vetting involving community leaders, we were able to select 5 boys and 5 girls in the first lot of our scholarship program. We intend to keep on supporting them, to mentor them and ensure they have achieved their goals in life and are able to serve their communities that desperately need them.
It is time for everyone to realize that those people closest to the ground, understand the local situation best. We need everyone to work much more closely with grassroots and community organizations and to listen to their ideas and solutions. We must provide platforms that amplify their voices and ideas. This should not be lip service but real engagement must prioritize giving the communities a seat at the table.
Only once communities have been brought on board in the decision making process can we see real impactful change. We will ensure that everyone has a fair chance in life not just to be healthy, educated and protected but also to succeed in his or her chosen area. We will be able to create safe spaces in the poor neighbourhoods of urban areas that will leave legacies that will outlast several generations.
This has to be a real team effort. If we work together with our communities, we can definitely have a brighter future.
Victor Mugubi Wanyama is a Kenyan professional footballer currently playing for Montreal Impact. He set up the Victor Wanyama Foundation is for the advancement of life skills and to promote the understanding of the positive role of sports throughout society, and around the world.