Enjoying a meal at the MYRC office
I arrived back in Kisumu at the end of March just in time for the rainy season to hit the lakeside area. With heavy rains pounding down daily, Kisumu has been lucky to avoid the large scale flooding seen in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. But nonetheless people living in the informal settlements such as Manyatta face extreme hardships as muddy roads at times make access impossible, raw sewage floods the streets, and homes made from mud are washed away or collapse. Living in the slums of Kisumu is hard enough, but during the rainy season life gets even tougher.
Still, arriving back in Kisumu I have found many reasons to remain optimistic. Even with all the challenges, the Manyatta Youth Resource Center (MYRC) continues to expand its programs, keep youth engaged, and make connections with the community. The first positive change I saw was the MYRC’s new office, located in the Manyatta slums in the same estate where we were founded in 2009. It is a nice, clean structure in a wonderful compound filled with trees, which give it a cool, welcoming atmosphere. The office now feels like a real base instead of an organization working out of a shared home.
To welcome me back, the MYRC held a feeding party at the office where over 300 youth and community members enjoyed a meal. I also presented the new sports equipment I brought over, the majority of which was donated by the Second Touch Soccer program out of Davis, California. The MYRC feeding program feeds its youth members each weekend, but this party was expanded so that people from the surrounding community could participate. This was quite a challenge-- Being in the heart of a slum, there were many people who hoped to get something to eat! We did our best, and after slaughtering a goat and several chickens, we made a pillau rice, ugali, vegetables, chapatti and stew. Music played as the youth danced and ate and enjoyed the compound. The new gear included two new sets of complete uniforms, balls and boots, as well as an assortment of shorts, shirts and socks. Many of the assorted items will be presented in an upcoming award ceremony as gifts to our team leaders to motivate them to keep up their hard work.
We are proud to have three of our soccer coaches participating in a new initiative in town called Premier League Skills. This is a UK-based program that is bringing coaches from the Kisumu and Mt. Elgon areas together to learn coaching skills and community outreach. It teaches local coaches how to use soccer to help address community conflicts and violence against women. The program will last for two years and will enable our coaches to better use soccer as a tool for social change. These skills are crucial to helping our community in Manyatta and we hope as our coaches gain experience and knowledge, they will be able to extend these ideas to our other coaches, management, participating youth and our immediate community.
The MYRC soccer teams are more active than ever. The MYRC senior team has begun its seasons with two semi-professional level soccer leagues, the Kenyan provincial league organized through the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and the Ogendo Championship League. Playing back-to-back matches last Saturday and Sunday, our team started strong in their first matches of the season, defeating their opponents in Ahero for the Provincial League 1-0 and their opponents for the Ogendo league 2-0. For participating in the Ogendo league, the MYRC was presented with new uniforms, inscribed with their team name and league sponsors. These professional uniforms motivate our players and help them feel legitimate. These seasons are very long and, especially for the provincial league, will be very costly. In order to play the 13 away matches, the MYRC will have to pay transportation costs to places far outside Kisumu. By the end of the season these costs really add up. On top of these two senior leagues, the MYRC youth teams will be starting in the local KYFA games soon. We have several age categories participating for both boys and girls.
Thanks to an invitation it received, the MYRC has been trying to raise enough funds to travel to Sweden to participate in the Sodertalje International Football Cup. As expected, this has been a major challenge but has also been a learning process and a chance to further connect with the families of our soccer players. We have had several meetings with parents and guardians so we can make them a part of the process. We had to explain the difficulties of trying to make such a trip happen and to see how, with their help and partnership, we can find more opportunities. Our goal is to involve the families of our youth so more of them become decision makers and participators in our programs. Whether we raise enough funds to make the trip happen, we will have the parents’ insight. The initial goal right now is to secure passports for all of our senior players. These passports will open many doors and will help facilitate their ability to follow opportunities across the globe. We will continue to try and find major funding to facilitate a trip abroad in the future.
In the performing arts section, the MYRC has put focus into helping support a young photographer named Chris “G Man.” G Man is currently a student at Maseno University where he is studying media production and photography skills. G Man has been helping the MYRC by taking photos especially at events, updating the group’s facebook and website pages, and recording and editing videos. G Man is also a talented music producer who has been working in partnership with the performing arts director Malique. MYRC also hopes to support G Man’s creative photography endeavors. One part of that project is to gather a wide range of G Man’s photos and feature them as part of a three-month exhibition at Lauren’s Café in Boonville, CA. This exhibition will also feature the work of Kisumu artists Nikomambo and Coster Ojwang as well as other MYRC arts and crafts. Through the MYRC, G Man was able to travel to Nakuru National Park and take photos, some of which will be featured during this exhibition. The MYRC is also taking part and looking forward to the Social Cuffs Art Showcase at the Sovereign Hotel in Kisumu, where the works of Nikomambo and Coster will be presented over the weekend.
The arts section at the MYRC is expanding to include a wider range of art disciplines and methods, but still continues to offer the programs that helped them become established. With G Man’s help the MYRC has also filmed and is helping produce a full-length film written, directed and acted by MYRC Drama members under the name Eagle Theatrics. We are also filming and producing a new music video for Nahna’s new song Parro.
The MYRC also continues its partnership with the care-giving organization Garden of Hope, which helps new mothers gain access to important information regarding baby nutrition and breastfeeding. I went with Garden of Hope’s founder, Rosemary, to the Kisumu County Hospital maternity ward and helped her distribute clothing items to the mothers and their newborns. Rosemary distributes the clothing free of charge and gives the women information about how they can contact her and receive free counseling and information about best practices as a new mother. We would like to thank Sports Gift for donating the home-made knit caps that were also distributed to the new families. Garden of Hope’s founder, Rosemary, was the original Treasurer of the MYRC and one of its founding members. We are proud that through experiences gained with the MYRC, Rosemary was able to start an organization that focuses on something she deeply cares about.
I will be in Kisumu for another month observing and participating in the MYRC’s many activities. Each trip to Kisumu, I have seen significant development in the programs MYRC operates but as an organization grows, so do its costs. The MYRC needs more and more coaches to lead their growing number of teams, more management support, more training opportunities, and more equipment to run its programs, whose memberships continue to grow. Without your support through the years, none of these programs would exist. It is really amazing what you have helped to create here! And now more than ever, we need your continued support so that the MYRC and its programs can continue to thrive. Thank you!
Coach Carina, coach, Premier League Skills rep
Meeting with families at the office
Nikomambo at his studio
Baby with cap from Rosemary's Garden of Hope
Having fun at the office