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Football promotes health among Kenyan slum youth


A pilot project working with 500 youth in Kikopey slum area in Nakuru County, Kenya, links learning various football (soccer) skills with reducing environmental and health risk factors that affect the youth and their families. The youth also learn organic farming methods to increase food security and improve nutrition.

Football is the one activity uniting people of different ages, genders, social and cultural backgrounds in Kenya. It is uniquely effective and affordable for promoting good health, while fighting hunger and poverty especially among the youth.

Trinity United Methodist Church in the Central/Narok District in Kenya oversees this project, which links sports with environmental clean-ups, AIDS prevention, leadership training and other community service activities. The church donates balls, uniforms and other soccer equipment to the teams. The project also involves 2,000 young people from the slums of the Gilgil, Naivasha and Narok and Nakuru areas.

Trinity's outreach team has been working with football teams in the slum where participating youth learn how they can use their environment to improve their nutrition and food security. The young people share it with their families and peers.


Skills, prevention linked

"Football for Health" is an "11-Health" program. Eleven simple messages on prevention – each linked to practicing a specific football action – are presented in 11 90-minute sessions. The first half is "Play Football" and teaches a specific football skill. The second half is "Play Fair." It presents specific health issues and teaches children healthy behaviors to protect themselves.

A session in which the youth played football for 45 minutes would precede time emphasizing the value of exercise in reducing high blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index. Unsafe sex and respect for girls and women would be the topic after the youth practiced passing. A discussion of avoiding drugs and alcohol would follow practice dribbling, while a session on defensive skills would lead to a presentation on poor sanitation and hygiene and the importance of washing one's hands. Other risk factors addressed include malaria, contaminated water, nutrition, inadequate health protection and family and social support.

Daniel Njuguna, a 15-year-old from Kikopey slum, said, "Since the Trinity United Methodist Church started this program, many youth have stopped taking drugs and the rate of crimes has reduced. Some of my friends were engaged in gangs, but now they have joined the soccer teams." They also attend church services, said Njuguna.

Model kitchen garden

Faith Wanjiru, the church's district outreach officer, taught one of the teams how to set up kitchen gardens. Wanjiru first discussed with the team the different urban farm activities that can be implemented in the slum areas – poultry and rabbit keeping and kitchen gardening. The group chose to start with kitchen gardens and used a training video to learn how to build them.

"Trinity donated kitchen garden sacks, farm manure, soil and kale and spinach seedlings to the team. With the help of the outreach officer, the team planted their first kitchen garden within the grounds of Trinity Mission School as a demonstration plot," said the Rev. Josam Kariuki, Central/Narok district superintendent.

The church hopes different slums throughout the country will replicate the kitchen garden. It is not costly and does not need a lot of space, yet the yields can be enough to feed a family, enhancing food security in the slum areas.

The program also is used to evangelize the children and youths in the slums. The number of the youth joining the church is increasing tremendously said Kariuki, and the retention of children and youths in church has improved.

Peter Openda is the communication officer for the Central/Narok District of the East Africa Conference. The district is in Kenya. This article originally appeared in the district newsletter.