Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 18 News List

FEATURE: Solar power brings soccer evenings to Kenyan slum


Players from the Mathare Youth Sports Association vie for a ball on Monday during a soccer training session at the Football for Hope Center, which is illuminated by solar-powered LED floodlighting near Nairobi’s Mathare slum.

Photo: AFP

It is eight in the evening and amateur teams of youngsters drawn from one of Nairobi’s toughest slums are locked in a five-a-side soccer match.

Normally they would have gone home long before dark to avoid the unsafe night-time streets of Mathare. However, that was before the stadium became the first in Kenya to get solar-powered floodlighting, an incentive to stay on.

“We have already begun to see the changes. There is a big turn-out of teams who want to use the pitch for training in the evenings,” said Stephen Muchoki, manager of the Mathare Football for Hope Center.

The development is a direct legacy of the first soccer World Cup in Africa held in South Africa last year: Governing body FIFA afterwards chose 20 African groups to house a Football for Hope Center to promote the sport, as well as health and education.

One was the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) to which the new solar lighting system was donated by China’s Yingli Green Energy Holding Company.


On top of the extra four hours of light a night provided by the new system, soccer players welcome the chance to practice away from the glare of the powerful equatorial sun.

“During the day, the sun is too direct, but at night it is easy to see the ball without straining,” said 16-year-old Edwin Ivusa, a Kenya under-17 international who aims to enter the national team in five years.

“Training at night is good for our fitness,” added striker Kevin Irungu, a former ball boy. “We run a lot — always on the ball — and we don’t get tired.”

“I didn’t think I would ever have a chance to play in a field like this, but the center has made us believe in ourselves and think we can do even better and that good things will come,” he said.

Muchoki expects the newly flood-lit pitch to attract more players, and also to be rented out for events to raise funds for the association.

“We are targeting kids between the ages of eight to 18 and also the retired former players who are too busy in the offices during the day and want to train at night,” he said.


MYSA was founded in 1987 and prides itself on having transformed the lives of more than 20,000 Kenyan youths living in the slums through training drills and courses ranging from soccer coaching to life-saving.

“These drills are very educational because they touch on every aspect of the daily life in the slum areas. They require a lot of concentration and skills from the participants,” games coordinator Robert Chege said.

Programs are based on those of Streetfootballworld, a non-profit Berlin-based organization which uses the sport to promote development, as well as gender and social equality in disadvantaged areas.

The Mathare association has a strong showing in ranks of street soccer — a low-budget version of the game that can be played barefoot in the street without referees — and dominated the previous two street soccer World Cup competitions in Germany in 2006 and South Africa last year.

Alongside its sport training, it runs programs on HIV/AIDS education and organizes clean-up groups to help prevent the spread of disease in Mathare, which is a collection of mud and corrugated iron shacks without sanitation or infrastructure.

Its pick as one of FIFA’s “20 Centers for 2010” was a boost for its years of work. This center as well as ones in South Africa, Mali and Namibia have progressed well and are already hosting young sportspeople. The Mathare stadium is the only sports facility in Kenya with a floodlighting system outside the two stadia in Nairobi — Nyayo National Stadium and the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani — which are powered by the national grid.

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