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How estate kids get their skates on to fight crime

In 2011, Ruth Nyambura approached her mother to ask for permission to join a roller skating group. It took her by surprise when her mum agreed almost immediately.

This was in spite of the prospect of getting serious injuries if she accidentally fell or was hit by a car or bodaboda motorbikes operating in Korogocho.

For Agnes Wanjiru, the sport would keep her teenage daughter busy and in the process, shield her from social vagaries that slum girls face.

Roller skating, a sport usually associated with the affluent  due to the high cost of its gear, had been introduced in Korogocho earlier that year by Daniel Onyango.

He had witnessed  crime and violence in the area and felt the need to do something.

“The youth here don’t have opportunities so they easily get into crime to earn a living. Crime was getting out of control,” he said.

Onyango, a third year political science student at the University of Nairobi is the founder of Hope Raisers Roller Skating Group.

He took interest in the sport in 2010 through a friend in Kariobangi.

When the government started tarmacking roads through the slum upgrading programme,  he used a second-hand pair of roller skates he had bought to train two friends.

“Korogocho lacks enough open spaces that young people can use for sports but we have roads. Why can’t we put them to good use?” he asks.

“Our idea was to give Korogocho a new face through breaking the cycle of violence. If we expose the young to skating, we are giving them a better option,” he says.

From three members in 2011, the group has grown to more than 100. They meet every evening for a skating session.

Membership is mainly from Korogocho but youth from other areas like Githurai, Kasarani, Kayole and one from the affluent Runda estate join them during weekends.

The youngest member of the group is only five years old.

The impact of skating is starting to be felt. Two years ago, it was almost impossible to walk around any part of Korogocho without being mugged, even in broad daylight.

Today, sections of the slum are relatively safe and residents carry out their activities without fear.

“This street was so notorious for  robberies at any particular time of the day that no one could dare start a business here. That is how it ended up being called Kona Mbaya,” said Mary Anyango, a vegetable vendor.

“The situation has become better in the last one year and that is why you can see almost all sorts of businesses here,” she added.

Apart from skating, Hope Raisers Roller Skating Group has begun being involved in other activities.

Recently it opened a computer centre where youngsters get trained on basic computer skills and graphic design.

The future political scientist’s love for skating and his community initiative got him elected as secretary of the Kenya Federation of Roller Sports, a position he hopes will help him  campaign for the growth of the sport in places like Korogocho and other disadvantages areas.