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New wave hits Kibera as girls adapt basketball

Having grown up in one of Africa’s largest slums, Kibera, Sylvia Nekesa knows too well the pressures that young girls face.

This prompted her to start a basketball team to give the girls an option that could lead to a better life.

Three months ago, the second year student at Nairobi Institute of Business Studies, where she is pursuing a diploma in Business Administration, began recruitment from primary schools to start Kibera’s only girls’ basketball team known as Girl Power.

Positive feedback

“When girls closed school for holidays, they did not have anything constructive to do. I decided to teach them basketball the way I was taught in high school. I felt this would not only give them something to occupy their time, but also broaden their career choices,” said the former Shiners Girls High School point guard.

At first, parents were not supportive and this posed a challenge because Nekesa was unable to raise enough players for a team.

For the parents who allowed their daughters to join the team, the girls would arrive late, resulting in limited time for training.

“Some of them had to do chores at home while others travelled upcountry when schools closed. Initially, having a quorum was difficult but things slowly changed. We still hope to attract more players to the team,” said Nekesa.

The girls train at Little Prince Primary School at Kibera’s Fort Jesus estate every Saturday, Fridays and when the girls are on holiday.

So far the team has 35 players aged 15 years and under. Nekesa said the positive feedback she had received about the team gave her morale to work harder.

At least 25 players take part in any given training. Nekesa said this helps to popularise the team and at the same time deters the girls from engaging in unhealthy friendships due to peer pressure.

Nekesa said changing the girls’ mindset was the biggest challenge, as football was the most popular sport among the girls but with time they came to love basketball. 

“Little Prince is very supportive, as the school allowed us to use their playground at no charge, and this motivates the girls. Basketball in Kibera is not as popular as in other areas and as a result, there is limited infrastructure. We are grateful to the school for opening their doors to us. Some of the girls in the team students at Little Prince,” said Nekesa.

Passion to see her initiative succeed drives Nekesa to engage with her players at a personal level, which includes following up with them at home if any of them misses training.

This has helped her relationship with players blossom into a warm friendship.

Little knowledge

Nekesa said the girls picked up the sport fast, adding that this was impressive as most of them had very little knowledge about basketball before joining the team.

Girl Power will play their first competitive game later this month and Nekesa said she hoped they would play a friendly match before then.

“The friendly will help gauge how much the girls have learnt and how well they apply their skill in a real game,” said Nekesa.

Off the court, Nekesa advises the girls on the challenges of life that they face. She said this helps to create a strong bond among them.

“All the girls on the team are in primary school and my dream is to see them carry on with basketball when they join high school. More so, I would like to see them become a unique group that would break stereotypes and exceed expectations to become some of the finest members in society,” said Nekesa.

She also organises mini clinics for her team, where she invites other active basketball players to teach new skills and give direction to the girls.

Nekesa had to sacrifice her playing career to give hope to the girls.

“I had a dream of forming a team while I was in high school, and I thought if I went into club basketball it would only benefit me. So I opted to go after my dream as it would benefit more people.” “There was nobody to introduce me to basketball when I was their age. I believe if I had, I would have started playing much earlier and had a flourishing career. For now, I play for fun,” she said.

Nekesa believes that some talented members of the team such as Serah Namono as well as Mercy Achieng would develop into fine players, and were destined for greater things.

“For the short time that Impala Warriors has been in existence, it is encouraging to see some players picking up the sport without much effort. I see a bright future for most of the girls on the team because they are eager to learn,” said Nekesa.