Parent turns to football for cancer awareness
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the cou ntry in 2020, the youth, mainly aged 15 to 20 years from diverse backgrounds had difficulties dealing with this unforeseen period. They were at risk of being enticed into prostitution, early unplanned pregnancies, substance abuse, crime, and other illegal activities.
Against this background, two enthusiastic mothers of teenage football players, Esta Kamau, a community development expert, and Susan Murage, a lawyer, felt compelled to do something about it. This led to the birth of the Ligi Ndogo Youth Ladies Team and Ligi Ndogo Youth Team for boys.
“The idea was to leverage on an existing structure – Ligi Ndogo Football Club – as a channel that would create, not just football training, but a safe space where these youth (both in and out of school) would have the freedom to express themselves and share the challenges they face, and encourage each other to become greater than their circumstances while being involved in something they enjoyed. A place that gave them a common identity, where they could not only dream, but begin to believe and become what they aspired to be,” says Esta, who is also the manager for the ladies’ team.
They shared their idea with the Ligi Ndogo Football Club Chairman, Chris Amimo, who gave his full backing and mandate to the mothers to take up the leadership and management of the two teams.
“Thereafter, we had a meeting with the parents of football players where we shared our vision with the immediate goal of keeping the young adults busy and the long-term goal of supporting them to achieve their full potential,” Esta says.
Although the ladies’ team is under Ligi Ndogo Football Club, it is fully managed independently under Sports 360 Company Limited. It has 20 active members, with approximately 56 per cent from less privileged backgrounds while the boys’ team has 35 active members, with about 25 per cent from less privileged backgrounds. While Esta and Susan were running the teams, they saw the ladies were so much interested in doing non-sport activities. This is when the idea of creating awareness about cervical cancer was born.
“Sports has no class. A football stadium is where you will find people from all walks of life watching a match. Therefore, we saw it is the best tool to advocate for social and health issues in the community including cervical cancer, “ she says.
In Kenya, cancer is the third highest cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. Globally it is the 4th most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the number one cause of cervical cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years.
“Not enough individuals are aware of that HPV can be treated if noticed early. The ladies in the team are becoming advocates on this issue. Youths listen more to each other than when addressed by other people, so they are the ambassadors when it comes to sharing information on cervical cancer and talking to their peers. Since they come from all walks of life, we always tell them no one is immune to the disease whether they are high-class or low-class. We also encourage cervical cancer screening,” she says.
Even though the initiative is still in its infancy, Esta sees the awareness they have created in the community as their biggest achievement.
Esta says that her love for soccer stems back to her childhood.
“My late dad was an ardent sportsperson and loved football. We used to be glued onto TV, watching Football Made in Germany in the 80s and he occasionally took us to local stadiums to watch matches. However, my child, who has been playing soccer since he was four, solidified my love for the game. Seeing his passion for the game and supporting his football journey both locally and internationally helped me understand it right from the grassroots. I want to be involved, not just as a football mother to my child, but as a mother to many budding footballers,” she says.
Ligi Ndogo Youth Ladies’ Team played in the Football Kenya Federation Regional League but had to bow out of the competition before the end due to financial constraints.
“Finances have always been a problem in running our activities. Currently we are thinking of possibly having a mashinani-based awareness drive that involves going into the communities and informing them of the importance of early screening and vaccination, but we don’t have the finances to sponsor the screening. We, therefore, appeal to any hospital which can cater for the screening as we do the drive. We would also like to partner with community-based organisations dealing with health issues. We are also looking forward to working with girls in schools who will be trained and then act as peer educators of cervical cancer in their schools and the community,” she says.
Esta advises parents to always support their children in what they are passionate about as not everyone is cut out for traditional career paths.
“ There are many opportunities in these ventures that parents and guardians look down upon such as music, sports, and arts. It has really paid off for me because my son is very clear in his path as he is currently studying sports coaching and development while he still plays football. He is very clear to me that “ if I don’t make it professionally in football, I will work as a professional in the football industry” and this passion of his made me strive to make a difference in the community we belong to,” she says.