January 16, 2012

Answered Prayers

On Monday, three of our girls opened a new chapter in their lives by joining secondary school.  Most of the students who sat their 8th Grade National Exams last November won’t join secondary school until early February, but after the results were released a couple weeks ago, Jera Secondary School in Siaya was quick to send them invitation letters and requested for them to come as soon as possible so that they could get adjusted academically before the others arrive and also to prepare for an upcoming football tournament.  Because of their football talent, they were asked to pay less than half of the fees for boarding school.  Through some well-wishers, the club was able to assist them financially to make their dream a reality.  We have prayed and fasted so much for their futures and this was an answer to that prayer. 
Jera has won the Nyanza Secondary School Provencal Tournament in 11 of the last 14 years.  This past year they reached the National Semifinals before narrowly losing and missed out on qualifying for the East African games by just one goal.  Eleven of those players were in their first year of secondary school and have all returned.  They are hoping that through hard work and with the addition of some good players, they may be able to reach that next level. 
All three of these girls joining Jera were founding members of the football club when they were tiny young girls in 5th and 6th grade.  It is so rewarding to see how they have grown physically, academically, socially and spiritually.  All of them are orphans that have faced so many challenges in their lives. 
Alicent is a total orphan who was failing academically in her home school last year and the club was able to relocate her to Mbita town and the club chairman invited her to stay with his family while we helped her attend a private school where she improved by leaps and bounds. 
Raisha is also an orphan who was having some difficulties and her grades had dropped dramatically three months before the exams when her guardian contacted us and together with the family and school we were able to counsel and advice her and saw her change in a short amount of time.
Leah has had so many obstacles that she has overcome since her father passed away shortly after her birth.  Because of issues at home on the island she ended up changing schools several times and hasn’t had a lot of stability.  Some of the places she stayed were not very safe for a young girl which affected her psychologically and physically her health was affected.  In fact, it reached a point a few months before her national exams that we had to help her transfer to Alicent’s school so that she could be safe and have a stable place to learn.  Now she will be the first one in her family to continue her education in secondary school. 
One of our core objectives with the football club is to help keep girls in school and earn an education that can brighten their future.  Another one is to help give them exposure and open up opportunities.
We are so thankful for what God has done in their lives and look forward to what is in store for their future.  There are still six others that sat for their National Exams that we are praying for and asking God to open up a door, especially financially, to enable us to help them continue their education. 

January 2, 2012

National Material

This week while we were playing in a tournament in Rongo, I received a call inviting some of our players to try out for the Kenya National Under 17 team.  It was very short notice, but we were able to put 5 of them in a bus to Nairobi with Jenny Cox within 24 hours of receiving the information.  After spending the night at Jenny's house, the girls (Alicent, Dorothy, Irine, Leah and Caren) were taken out to Matuu Girls Secondary School in Eastern Province. 

There were over 80 of the best players from all over the country.  After two days of trials, they selected 30 to remain in the camp and sent home the other 50.  We were blessed that one of our players was selected.  Irine Achieng (former CGA student currently learning at Moi Girls Secondary School in Sindo) impressed the coaches with her strong left foot crosses and shots.  She will remain there at Matuu to attend classes for a few weeks and train with the team as they prepare for their clash with Nigeria on 21st January in Kenya with the return leg scheduled for two weeks later.  These matches are part of the qualification process for the World Cup to be held in September - October this year.    

The other girls returned home today thankful for the opportunity to travel to a new place and compete against some of the best players in the country. 

January 1, 2012

National Exam Results

On Thursday our girls found out the results from their National 8th Grade Exams.  They had taken them in November along with 800,000 other students across the country.  These exams will determine if they are able to go to secondary school and what kind of school they will be able to join.  We had 9 girls in 8th grade this year, a record for us.  Most of them have been with us since even before we began the football club.  They are some of our founding members who we have known since they were very small. 

In our district, usually less than 1 out of every 3 girls that sit for the exam will pass it (250 marks and above).  Because of issues like child labour, early marriages, pregnancies, etc. it makes it very difficult for girls in Mbita to pass their exam and go on to secondary school. 

Last year two of the best girls in the district were members of our football club and 4 of the 7 girls passed.  Fortunately, God provided a way for all 7 to move on to secondary school.

This year 7 of the 9 passed.  The two that didn't reach 250 marks were very close and will still be able to move on to secondary school if finances are available.  Our top performer was Damarice Awino who scored 312 marks, followed by Esther Atieno with 301 marks. One of our players is hearing impaired and she had a very impressive score.  Overall they performed best in English, Math and Science, but were low in Kiswahili.  The mean for all of them was 274.38 which is very impressive. 

Several secondary schools have expressed interest in several of these girls because of their football talents and some have promised to give them reduced fees so they can attend their school. 

Five of the nine are orphans and the other four are very needy. 

We hope and pray that each of them will get the opportunity to continue their education and continue their football development in secondary school as God provides for them the financial means necessary. 

A God Moment

I love it when God opens up doors to share with people at the most unusual times.  During all of the chaos and drama during the Homa Bay Tournament when everyone was arguing and annoyed about the prizes being changed, tensions were so high.  We were asked to go to this park to wait for this important person who is campaigning to be the governor of our county.  He was coming to settle the disagreement and give us the way forward.  So there were about 20 team managers from all over the county from each of the sports (football, volleyball and netball) sitting under a tree waiting for this V.I.P.  Some of them I knew very well and some I was meeting for the first time. 

The conversation began with our problems, but then quickly shifted to me and how long I had been in Kenya, what I had done in the U.S. before coming and why I came here which gave me a great opportunity to share how God had called me here.  Then it shifted to the fact that I was single and we began talking about marriage and finding the right person to marry.  That led to a heated discussion about true followers of Christ and religion vs. relationship.   It went on for at least 30-45 minutes.  People had really strong opinion, but listened closely to what I was saying.  Many asked questions that led us to look into the scripture to find out how God views marriage and discipleship.  Eventually the VIP arrived and we got down to the business that had brought us there, but I think there was another reason that God had brought us together that day.  In fact, I could see how God was working through all the problems that had gone on to open the eyes of a few more people.     

More Drama

Sometimes, working in Kenyan football can be very confusing and frustrating.  My last post explaind some of the problems (lack of planning and foresight, lack of organization and people constantly changing their minds).  Through all of these things I think God has really taught be a lot about patience, faith and trust.  I am definitely not the same person I was when I began coaching girls football in Kenya four years ago.  Even though the challenges can be great, each of them presents an opportunity to teach our young girls life lessons.  We constantly tell them that they are the future leaders of this country and we need them to step up and do things the right way (God's way).  We need hard-working teachers, coaches, engineers, referees, lawyers, nurses, etc. that do things openly, honestly and with integrity if we want to change this country.   

Here is another story from this past week.

The Cultural festival we attended in Homa Bay was a new idea to bring unity in the newly created Homa Bay County.  They wanted to have many different sports and performances to encourage different talents and abilities.  When we were first invited to participate in the women's football tournament the prize money was so high.  I had a hard time believing they could give that much money to the winners.  A couple of weeks before the tournamnet it was reduced to sh. 50,000 for the winner, sh. 30,000 for 2nd place and sh. 15,000 for 3rd place.  Knowing that we are one of the top teams in Homa Bay County I figured we had a good chance of winning that money so that our players could get some pocket money as the prepare to go back to school this week.  

After finishing our matches and securing the 2nd position I went to the tournament organizers to confirm the prizes before taking the girls back home.  That is when I was told that they were giving only sh. 30,000 to 1st place, sh. 15,000 to 2nd place and nothing to 3rd place.  I began complaining and telling them that you can't change the prizes after the tournament is over.  On top of that, they were going to give sh. 100,000 to the first place boys team.  I don't think that is the gender equity the new constitution is promoting.  I argued with different members of the committee for over an hour to no avail.  They even said they would give me my registration money back, but I told them I didn't want registration money, I wanted the prize money our girls have earned.  I told them I was going home quietly today, but would be back tomorrow to collect the prize.  If we didn't get it, then I would be very loud to the media and everywhere else possible. 

Once the other team managers found out about it, they had many problems the rest of that day and even met late in the night to try to sort things out.  All the teams refused to finish the boys 3rd place match, boys final or girls exhibition match until the prizes were sorted out.  The next morning everyone was at the field, but no football was taking place.  We waited for several hours for the patron of the tournament who was coming to discuss the matter.  He arrived by 1:00 pm and after a few hours of discussions, we revised the prize money allocation and would be given part of the prize money that day with a promise that the committee would raise the other part of the money and give us in the coming months.  It was something very simple that could have been sorted out a day or two before, but there was one member of the committee that had a difficult time listening to other people's opinions.   

So we all headed back to the field to play the final matches.  Unfortunately the fans weren't very happy that no football was taking place so some of them began rioting at Homa Bay stadium, shouting and throwing stones.  They were blaming the organizers for not following through on their promises.  We all had to run away and look for another plan.

Fortunately, we were given a portion of our prize money and were able to go home.  I am not sure if they will ever finish the boys tournament!    

Juggling Act

It was a chaotic week with so many different things going on.  We were playing in two tournaments at the same time in two different towns, the 8th Grade National Exam results were being released (we had 9 players that sat for those exams), and five of our players were given the opportunity to travel to Eastern Province to try out for the Kenya National Under 17 team.  Juggling all of those balls was complicated. 

On Wednesday in Rongo we began receiving calls from a lady in Homa Bay telling us that we had to play some of our matches there that day even though earlier the secretary said he could schedule all of our matches for Friday and Saturday.  So we were planning on leaving after our final preliminary match in Rongo to go to Homa Bay to play 1-2 matches.  Unfortunately during our game, the chairman called all of the team managers and talked very strongly that if any team goes to Homa Bay that would not be able to come back and finish this tournament.  We had to choose one or the other.  I was getting pressure from both sides so I prayed for God to show us the right decision.  After a few minutes the chairman came over to me and asked if I was doing ok.  I told him no and began to explain our problem.  This same man who was so vehement a few minutes ago turned very kind and said that it was no problem if we wanted to go and come back as long as we didn't tell anybody else. 

So we piled the team in the landcruiser and drove a half hour down the road to Homa Bay.  We lost the first match and won the 2nd match.  But during the afternoon, the organizers in Rongo began calling me to say there was another team that showed up 1 1/2 days late and we had to come play against them (kind of difficult since we were in Homa Bay).  We didn't go back for that game.  Then someone else told us they wouldn't let us sleep in the dorms that night since we had left and gone to Homa Bay.  Coming back to Rongo I told our girls to stay very calm and peaceful and let the officials handle things.  I didn't want them quarrelling or shouting or rioting.  When we came in to the school compound where we were sleeping, they had men with sticks ready to chase us away.  They said we were not welcome back.  We talked very calmly to them and within five minutes the girls were eating dinner and in their rooms preparing to go to sleep.  In stark contrast, another team in a similar situation never got permission from the chairman and when they came back, they were shouting and singing and causing all kinds of problems.  They were not allowed to spend the night there. 

So the next morning we were told that they gave the other team a walkover because we weren't there for the match.  Instead of quarrelling with them I just wrote a letter of protest explaining that originally we were scheduled to play them on Tuesday afternoon.  We were ready for that match, but the other team never came that day and never showed up until Wednesday afternoon.  And at that point we had been told our preliminary matches were finished which is why we went to Homa Bay.  Both of us had qualified for the semifinals but if the other team was given the walkover then it would mean that we would have had to play the best team in the semifinals instead of the finals.  After meeting for several hours they decided to allow us to play the match immediately which was a fair decision but put us at a disadvantage since we would have to play that match, then the semfinals, then the finals back to back to back.  We were able to win that match and the semifinal but ran out of gas in the 2nd half of the finals against a good team.  Six matches in two days was a lot, especially when the 2nd day all three matches were in a row and all at different locations that we had to travel to on foot.