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Sports transform young drug abusers in Kenya

By RADING GERRO in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-05-24 09:12

Kids play soccer in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, March 7, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

In some parts of Kenya, the lack of job opportunities has led to depression among young people, resulting in rampant drug abuse. However, sports have been used as a tool for rehabilitation in the regions most affected by the problem.

The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse has partnered with the Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies, a nongovernmental organization, since 2018 to organize tournaments for teams in the highly affected regions, including the capital of Nairobi and the Mount Kenya and Rift Valley areas.

"We have set up annual football and volleyball tournaments to distract drug users from their depressed state," said Eston Murithi, chief executive of the NGO.

Winning team members are awarded donkeys rather than money.

"We award them donkeys as opposed to money to empower them. With a donkey, they can earn a decent living, which keeps them busy and away from criminal activities. If we awarded them money, they would use it to buy more drugs," Murithi added.

Since the first soccer tournament in 2018, more than 10,000 young people from these regions in Kenya have benefited from the program, which has now been rolled out in other parts of the country.

The NGO also organizes community meetings to educate young people about drug abuse and to help them earn a decent living, for example by using a donkey to transport rice from farms to factories.

Dennis Muchiri, the coach of the Ndorome Donkey Riders Football Club in Kirinyaga County, has guided the team to its fourth title.

Soccer, "just like any other sport, has a way of bringing people together for a good common goal. We started the team with 18 members and currently have 25," said Muchiri, a former professional soccer player.

"Most of these players were drug addicts, and it was hard for us to practice. Sometimes we would go to look for them," Muchiri said. But since the education and assistance program began, "they are now drug free," he added.

Team members John Waweru and William Maina are among the former drug abusers who have benefited from the sporting activities.

"Personally, I was hooked on a local brown drug and marijuana," Maina said. "My parents had given up on me and I was seen as an outcast by the community."

Many young people within the Kirinyanga County-Mount Kenya region are addicted to drugs such as khat, sleeping pills and morphine, he said.

Waweru, who is also the team captain and chairman of the 25-member team, said that the partnership is slowly transforming the lives of young people in the region.

"If you had visited this region in 2016, then you will realize that a generation was wasting away. But with this initiative, lives are being transformed," he said.

"With a donkey, the youths are busy transporting rice from farms to factories or fetching water for the locals, while in the evening they are on the football field practicing for weekend games. This has helped them to be focused in life, hence some have fully transformed. They now are responsible people in society," Waweru said.

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