We talk a lot here at PPS about the power of place in improving people’s lives. Here’s a story that illuminates that power beautifully.

The children of Kibera make soccer balls from waste. Photo: Digital Democracy via Flickr.

The other night, at an event convening funders and partners in support of our joint initiative with UN-HABITAT, Michael Connery of UNFCU read aloud a letter from a young man in Kenya, Felix Oduor Otieno. Felix Oduor works with the Kilimanjaro Initiative (KI), which aims to provide “young women and men with opportunities that will enable them to take on a constructive role in their communities, thereby alleviating the need for them to engage in ungainly and detrimental activities that prove disadvantageous both to them and to the community at large and further recognizing their local knowledge and will-power.”

One of KI’s projects has been the rehabilitation of a soccer field in Kibera, a Nairobi slum that is home to nearly a million people. What difference can a soccer field make to such a place? Let Felix Oduor tell you:

Last weekend, as I was sitting outside our house close to the new road that heads to Silanga village, in Kibera slum — Nairobi, Kenya — a big lorry mounted with huge speakers and amplifiers passed-by, followed by numerous smaller vehicles. I quickly learnt that a famous tele-Evangelist was in one of the smaller vehicles. They were headed to Undugu field. I was tempted to tag along but changed my mind. After all, these days every significant event in Kibera is held at Undugu field.

Felix Oduor Otieno.

I flashed back to the days when we used to play on the field. We were little boys playing with our balls made of waste plastic bags. The field was rocky, uneven and unsafe – most of the time it was deserted. I remember one time we invited a team from a neighboring estate for a football match only for them to decline. They insisted that we go play on their estate field, outside Kibera, because according to them the Undugu field was not a playing field — they called it a “rock garden.”

The Undugu field is one of only two community fields in the whole of Kibera. Sometimes, when I take an evening stroll around the field and see young boys and girls go through their practice sessions, I have no doubt that sporting heroes are in the making. I also know and appreciate that those who participate and volunteer at the KI golf outings, to help raise funds for Kilimanjaro Initiative, are our first champions. Despite being busy, with many commitments, you see it as important to be part of this worthy cause. Please know that you maybe thousands of miles away but you are touching many young lives. You are giving them a safe space to explore and nurture their talents. On behalf of those young people and on behalf of all Kiberans, thank you so much for your efforts — you are our true heroes.

The funds you help raise today will go along way in improving the field and advancing Kilimanjaro Initiative’s objectives. For the upgrading of the field, the funds will be used to further develop the playing surface, improve storm water drainage, create a spectator seating area and help us do some landscaping. The field will become even more of a safe focal point and community space, not only enhancing sporting talents among youth but also fostering community interaction, promoting safety and security and peaceful co-existence in Kibera.

May you be abundantly blessed.

Sincerely,

Felix Oduor

That kind of says it all.

Photo of soccer ball: Digital Democracy via Flickr