Football, a saviour for girls from sexual exploitation in slums

Idleness can drive young girls into prostitution, sex manipulation and criminal activities especially in slum areas across the country.

Lack education among young girls leads to early pregnancies in the society but Elizabeth Shako has changed the lives of the young girls from Eldoret slums like Langas, Munyaka, Huruma and Kamukunji by playing football and taking them to the vocational training to kill the idleness and at the end of the day, they gain expeirnec especially in handwork to help them earn an independent life.

Shako, who can be defined as the iron lady in Kenyan football as the first woman to vie for the position of president in running football in the country way back in 2011 but lost the battle and chose her way of living within football by creating a play ground for vulnerable girls.

She started empowering girl-child through football after she two of her Salasa teams play at the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) women’s league in Division two Zone B.

She says running football teams especially for the girls is not easy, admitting that football has helped majority of girls from sexual exploitation and provide good guidance because the girls need to be empowered, care, trust among other virtues in society.

She started football administration while in Mombasa in 2002 when she witnessed many girls, who were talented but engaged in prostitution, affected by drugs while others were idlers as they engage in anti-social behaviours.

Through her leadership skills, she approached leaders and requested for one ball, which was given and through that ball she mobilized many girls changed lives after she together with other friends started playing football that is when she realized they were so talented.

“Initially we were called a team of thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers among other bad names but within one year those had performed very well and we were one of the top women teams in Mombasa,” said Shako.

Her team used to organize Jamhuri Day tournament under former Kenya Football Federation (KFF) Mombasa sub-branch where they used to invite teams from Nairobi, Rift Valley among others. But they saw it bad Jamhuri tournament that was the end until the following year so they decided in 2009 to start a women league.

“We worked together with Asha Pili of Mombasa, Mike Korir of the Rift valley, Nyaberi from Kisii and Waithaka of Nairobi among others and formed a committee to ensure we have women league in the country. We approached Indakwa who supported us very much. Then we wrote a proposal to Unicef to support women league after we went to defunct Football Kenya Limited (FKL) under Mohamed Hatimy and Sam Nyamweya with KFF who did not support us instead fought us because they wanted us to run the league under one federation. We also went to Jack Oguda, the Kenya Premier League CEO but it did not work,” explained Shako.

After exhausting all avenues, they decided to go to the ministry of sports where they were accepted to host women’s league and Unicef donated about kshs 11 million every year to run the league. The league was successful even girls used to earn allowances. Therefore they registered National Soccer Ladies Initiative that ran the league, under the ministry of Sports, funded by Unicef.

“We started the league which composed of 12 teams that ran very well and at the time came when they said the league should be run by the federation as they have the mandate to run the leagues not the government” added Shako.

After realizing the mess and how football was being managed poorly with two factions, FKL by Hatimy and KFF by Nyamweya, she decided to join the race where she said she was called names but that did not deter her efforts.

“I vied for the football federations’ presidency but failed. My mission was to show people how football can be run very well in the country. We needed a good football administrator, not the cartels we see around, who steals from the federations. But as usual, Kenyans we always elect cartels and that is their opinion. When money speaks, the truth remains quiet even if you have good ideas to promote the sport. Even if someone is corrupt and people know he is they will still vote him as long as he gives money to voters. That is how Nyamweya returned to football managed even after our much cry. Even though I was not elected, we still have a women’s league in the country and talents came out. That has also given chance to Harambee Starlets to play at the international class, which is doing good compared to Harambee Stars,” said Shako.

But now she is surprised the way the women league is being run. When they received funds from Unicef, each team competed in the league, even the poor ones competed. At the moment, the only teams that compete are the ones with sponsorship. Some teams with talented players have no chance in the league due to lack of funds.

“Some teams have died naturally due to lack of money because they lack travelling funds. Teams like MYSA, Spedag, Makolanders, Bulemia among others were the first ones to compete and they are still competing because they have sponsorship,” she added.

She added that their league was played for a reason “We did not just play for the sake of playing but playing for a reason. Footballers from poor families lack what to do so we started some vocational training, peer education and teach on reproductive health, life skills and some training that will guide them in life.”

“We wanted to build this girl not just playing football but with a purpose and understanding herself for self-reliance. Even in Kenya now, you can’t say a footballer can play to sustain his or her life. We just play because we want to play. Through this programme, we have seen football transforming the lives of many girls,” she reiterated.

She said that the girls she started with were on drugs, prostitution but now some have changed and they are not married and have children, something that was just in a dream.  Through playing, they have gone back to school and go to vocational training.

“Because girls like playing they will go back to school or enter vocational training just to play and that we have achieved. This was one way to get them out of drugs and prostitution. Through this programme, over a 1,000 girls have gone back to school and others 4,000m have joined vocational training with over 90% of girls that have gone through this programme, none is idle, they are somewhere doing something good for their lives,” she said.

She continues that though she has not Achieved her goal because she wants to see all girls’ teams in the grassroots play at premier league regardless of their status, which is a dream. I don’t know if I will achieve that and hoping one day the federation will consider those teams playing in villagers and lack exposure. After a team fails to progress, the girls will return to drugs, prostitution and early pregnancies.

Solasa has 35 women teams across the country and 16 in Uasin Gishu and through the programme they have helped many but they have limited resources because sponsorship has gone down.

“We need to have a working system where talents and teams are nurtured as they grow with football. We want to make our girls exposed to international football standards but if we continue doing the way we are doing now, it will be a circle,” she added.

She added that in this country, there is so much money allocated for sports starting from the national government, constituency, counties and wards but that money is never felt but at the constituency, one tournament will be prepared and millions will be used, which is corruption.

She said they should have good teams that will feed the national team not just waking up in the morning and choosing the players from KPL teams.

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