Unsung heroes – goals for girls

| May 14, 2013 - 10.06UTC

Carol Gachiengo meets Abdul Kasim, whose ten years as a soccer coach have revolutionised the girls’ game, and given our young women a new lease of life

Some of the boys were lying on the ground in tears. Others were standing over the prone players as they rebuked each other for allowing girls to beat them. This was the first win for Kibera Girls Soccer Academy – and a turning point for the team.

When Abdul Kasim started coaching girls’ football in Kibera in 2002 it was a given in the community that females simply did not play the game. So when Kasim and his original team of 11 primary school girls set out to disabuse this stereotype, they knew it would not be easy.

“I would throw the ball to the girls, and boys would snatch it and run away with it,” he recalls, laughing. “‘The ball belongs to us, and the girls belong in the kitchen,’ they’d say.”

Worse still, his girls’ team was the first and only one in Kibera, so all their matches were against boys’ teams. Despite dedicated practice, they were losing all their games. Kasim was determined to bring success to the team, and organised an intensive training programme. Shortly after it began, the girls triumphed in that memorable victory that left the boys’ team in tears – and earned the Kibera Girls a hard-won respect on the pitch. The biggest battle was won.

Kasim grew up in Kibera, and has great respect for the role sport played in his childhood.

“I played soccer with the neighbourhood kids when I was at primary school. In high school I played basketball, and during the holidays there was boxing at the gym and weightlifting – in fact, I still have a bit of a weightlifter’s build,” laughs the 40-year-old father of two daughters, one aged 19, the other just a few months.

So what became of Kasim’s original team members?

“I realised I was losing them to the streets after primary school,” he recalls. The parents of most of the girls could not afford to send them to high school, so they would drop out and end up in all kinds of trouble. So Kibera Girls Soccer Academy gave rise to Kibera Girls Secondary School, a free high school that currently has an enrolment of 130 students, two professional teachers and several volunteer teachers, some now taking university classes. In the past two years 75 girls have graduated from the high school. There are now over 100 girls playing football, in four teams: Under-12, Under-14, School team and Senior team.

Kasim retired from his job as an assistant sectional engineer with Telkom Kenya last year after a 20-year career. He now works part-time as the country programme director of Stitching 4 Life, a non-profit organisation that supports education and which currently pays for the feeding programme at Kibera Girls Secondary School as well as college fees for several of the school’s alumnae. This leaves him time to devote to the school – and the soccer team.

But why girls’ soccer? Kasim is a strong believer in creating social equality through sport and in educating a village through female advancement.

“Women come home,” he says. “So, with the education of one girl, a family – then a whole community – can benefit.”

Quick Facts:
Currently reading: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson – the inspiring true story of how one man founded schools in Himalayan conflict zones.
Passion for: Engineering. I sometimes miss focusing my whole mind on a phone line or a switchboard repair job
Other sports: Definitely boxing. I have always loved boxing.
Philosophy: In giving there is a lot of receiving. Mother Nature pays us back.

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