For thousands of children in Mombasa, Kenya, the streets and dumpsites are where they live their lives: hustling, sleeping, working and eating. These children and young people are often criminalised by those who should be offering them care and protection, by police who routinely round them up and detain them. With a lack of trusted adults, they’re also at risk of child labour, exploitation and abuse. But things got even harder for street-connected children when the pandemic hit in March last year. More children became dependent on the streets as schools closed and their families lost income. Food became hard to come by – especially as street-connected children were initially excluded from government handouts. They became exposed to more dangers. In one area of Mombasa, where we work with our partner Glad’s House Kenya, 80% of children aged 7-16 had been exposed to drugs.
But your support is helping to address these new challenges. Through football!
In 2006, Glad’s House Kenya began a weekly kick-about on Thursday mornings with young people living and working on the streets of Mombasa. 15 years on, football has become a core way for the team to reach out to vulnerable children. They use football every day on the streets and have reached thousands of children.
One coach told us “I have been a footballer myself and went through secondary school for free because of it. By coaching, I want the children to get new opportunities in life because of football.”
Football is a fun way for the children to exercise, but it’s also a great way for the Outreach Team of street workers and social workers to engage children. They can build positive relationships, develop trust and help them to open up. Free from judgement, children are able to enjoy themselves and are empowered to make better decisions. The coaches deliver lessons in life skills, such as substance misuse awareness, health and hygiene. For many children living on the streets, it’s the only opportunity they have to access washing facilities and a proper meal.
“When there is no football on, I feel very uncomfortable. I spend the whole day sleeping under the shade. Football also helps my personal hygiene. Once you have played, you have to wash your body otherwise you smell very bad. It’s the only way to keep clean. On the days when there is no football, I spend the whole day on drugs and sleeping. I don’t even wash my body or change my clothes.” One street-connected child told us.
Another said, “If you were not here, I would be in town sniffing glue. The physical exercise helps bring the drugs out of my body”.
As well as holding sessions on the streets, football coaches also go into the Likoni Rehabilitation School, where street-connected children are often detained.
“I am so thankful for the football coaches. When I first came to rehabilitation school, I didn’t know how I would cope. Playing football makes me forget lots of the bad things I’ve been through. Football keeps me going.” A child held at the rehabilitation centre told us.
“I am so thankful for the football coaches. When I first came to rehabilitation school, I didn’t know how I would cope. Playing football makes me forget lots of the bad things I’ve been through. Football keeps me going.”Child at the rehabilitation centre
In 2018, Glad’s House Kenya’s football sessions took them overseas. They flew to Russia, where they represented Kenya at the Street Child World Cup!
Breaking down barriers
Football is also used as a way to break down barriers between communities. By holding tournaments among young people living on the dump site, on the streets and in the community, they can build relationships. The most successful football tournaments have been the ones between children and the County Police! They help to increase understanding and for them to see one another as individuals.
The sessions have long-term benefits for the children. One coach told us “The physical fitness activities really help them. Tedy’s appearance has really changed since he started attending the sessions in November. He used to look much older than he is. But now he looks 16, is clean and we’ve started to see him smile! The interaction with his peers during the football really helps to build his confidence in social settings.”
The power of these football sessions is more than just about sport and exercise. They are the starting place for children and young people to turn their lives around. They give them confidence, build their self-esteem and allow them to access the vital support and care to build a brighter future for themselves.
These sessions are only possible because of the generosity of supporters like you. Thank you for helping Tedy and other street-connected children to have the future they deserve!