Imagine you are a poor child from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and have a dream to become a soccer star. Some young players come close to this dream when the International School (ISK) in Nairobi hosts its annual “Nairobi Mini World Cup”.
The Mini World Cup started after ISK’s Principal of the Elementary School, Patricia Salleh Matta, introduced a Saturday sports program three years ago and opened the school not just to its own students but to many communities around the school.
My 11-year-old son Marco and I have a passion for soccer (we call it football). In order to advance the game at ISK, where he goes, I got involved in coaching and eventually became the school’s “Soccer Commissioner.” As such, my main task is to organize soccer tournaments. The highlight of our year is the annual "Nairobi Mini World Cup," which has become a fixture for many schools and soccer clubs in the city.
This year, we turned the Cup into the largest kids' football event in Nairobi: 62 teams, more than 700 children and some 1,000 parents and friends watching. Eric Wainaina was our special guest and in true World Cup fashion, even sang the national anthem and Daima Kenya, one of the country’s most popular peace songs.
We all love our jobs, but our daily work often remains abstract. Soccer and the competitions open a window to the country we live in. Kenya’s largest slum is on the edge of Nairobi in Kibera. The kids from these areas have become regular participants at the Mini World Cup where they compete on a level playing field with those from more affluent schools.
The program also gives older children, including expat teenagers, in Nairobi the opportunity to volunteer and work. One of these volunteers, who has helped to shape ISK’s football program, is 16-year old William O'Sullivan, the son of one of my colleagues. “As a coach, I have seen the footballing skills of the kids develop, as well as their maturity,” says William. “It has been hard work to meet all of the expectations as a coach, helper, organizer, referee and role model but I feel it has been fully worth it.”
For those of you who have a passion for this beautiful game and who love to watch children play it, make sure your next trip is to Nairobi. You’ll get some real “field” experience and you’ll see kids who love the game, from all walks of life, competing to be the best they can be.
Follow Wolfgang on Twitter @wolfgangfengler
Also see his recent blog post: Will oil be a blessing or a curse for Kenya