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Omollo: Life in Dandora was tough

Johanna Omollo has opened up on the tough life he experienced while growing up in Dandora, a Nairobi suburb, renowned for its large dumpsite and crime.

In an interview with DW, the Harambee Stars midfielder further narrates how some of his friends turned to crime after struggling to make ends meet.

“I lived pretty close to the dump (site), walking distance, three minutes. So it was really, really close. And the stench, it’s unbearable. We just played football next to it. We used plastic bags from the garbage to make a football,” he recalls.

“A lot of families live with less than a dollar a day. So the only thing was football or crime. I got lucky because I stuck to football.”

Omollo was one of Kenya’s standout players at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

He scored a goal, via a well-timed header, during Kenya’s 3-2 win over Tanzania in his team’s second match of the tournament in Alexandria.

He later scored another one, a screamer of a shot from 30 yards, when Kenya drew 1-1 with Togo in Nairobi in a 2021 Africa Nations Cup qualification match later that year.

The 31-year old’s professional career includes a 14-year stint in Belgium, Luxembourg, and now Turkey.

From his background, Omollo feels a sense of responsibility and in 2017 established a foundation designed to give young people in Dandora a better outlook for the future.

The Johanna Omolo Foundation supports poor families with school uniforms and regularly distributes sanitary pads to 500 schoolgirls so that they don’t feel the need to stay at home during their period. The foundation also operates a football academy to further develop the skills of talented boys and girls who are hoping to turn professional.

“When I was growing up, they used to tell me that guys who play football don’t know anything in school. But when I came to Europe, I realized that’s not true. We give them an opportunity. If sport doesn’t work out, education can help. I want these kids to succeed.”

Omolo is also part of the Common Goal initiative which includes some 150 professional players from around the globe who donate 1% of their salaries to social football projects.