Libby Olson, Lizzy Mair and Kairo Mair travelled to Akonjo Village in Kenya to provide a girls’ soccer camp, and the experience provided learning for all involved. Libby is producing a documentary about the trip.(Contributed)

Libby Olson, Lizzy Mair and Kairo Mair travelled to Akonjo Village in Kenya to provide a girls’ soccer camp, and the experience provided learning for all involved. Libby is producing a documentary about the trip.(Contributed)

Salmon Arm women bring soccer to girls in Kenyan village

Cultural disconnections melt away with learning and laughter

When three Salmon Arm women travelled to a village in Kenya to teach soccer to girls and produce a documentary, the learning went both ways and well beyond sports.

Lizzy Mair, Libby Olson and Kairo Mair spent just over a week in Akonjo, a village of about 2,000 people in east Africa, in February of this year.

Unexpectedly, washing clothes turned out to be one of those learning experiences.

The Akonjo women would go down to the river to scrub their clothes, so the Canadians asked to join them. Their host and contact for the trip, Jimmy Ouma Okello, escorted them.

“They look at you daggers – they thought we were really suspect,” said Lizzy of the women. “Jimmy would show us how to do it and they started laughing.”

Rather than lock their knees and scrub hard like the Akonjo women, the Salmon Arm women would lapse into a more familiar squat – which prompted the hilarity.

“Then they came closer. We asked them to help us and then they just melted,” Lizzy smiles. “It’s so great how that could be the ice breaker, washing our laundry with them.”

Jimmy Ouma told them the word quickly spread throughout the village.

“They were so shocked all these white women were down washing clothes,” recalled Libby. “I think that’s when they realized we wanted to learn from them.”

The trip had its roots in a visit from Jimmy Ouma to Salmon Arm in 2010. He came as part of a cultural exchange that grew out of a collaboration with Cathy Stubington of Runaway Moon Theatre. Liz has been a soccer instructor for many years and thought it would be great to offer a girls camp in Akonjo. Kairo met Jimmy Ouma at Shuswap Middle School, which was doing a fundraiser to improve water quality in the village’s stream.

The idea of a camp in Akonjo fit well with both Libby and Kairo, as both have had a passion for soccer and all it offers since they were little. Also, Kairo has been taking development studies at the University of Calgary, while Libby has been working on her motion picture arts degree at Capilano University in North Vancouver.

The documentary is nearing completion and Libby said she is excited to show it when it’s complete.

Another one of many memorable experiences in Akonjo was when the three women asked Jimmy Ouma to take them for a hike. Again, the news spread quickly through the village.

“He said, I don’t think they know white people can walk,” recounted Libby, explaining white people usually come through on safaris in big vehicles and wave to ‘the poor people’ as they drive away.

All the women comment on how generous and welcoming their hosts were.

Read more: Soccer takes students raised in Salmon Arm to Kenya

Read more: Losing climate change race a ‘disaster for Africa,’ UN says

As for soccer, teaching the girls was both a challenge and a joy.

The Canadians expected 20 girls and about 35 showed up. That was a challenge for just three coaches, one of whom was also filming.

Kairo recounted how overwhelmed she felt the first day or so, wondering if they would have enough time with the girls. But special moments made the difference. Seeing the girls’ amazement when they saw 20 soccer balls in one place. Playing volleyball over the laundry lines.

“Those little moments made everything else and the stress worth it,” she said.

The Akonjo girls were also extremely enthusiastic, determined and talented. They learned quickly. Their laughing was deep and joyful.

But commands like ‘spread out’ or ‘line up’ were tricky.

Lizzy says she realized after a while that in a place where resources are scarce, lining up means, if you’re at the end of the line, you could go without.

It also became obvious how pampered Canadians can be. In Akonjo, the girls were fine playing for three hours without water bottles and snacks. When the women of the village played netball, they didn’t have jerseys but would always know who was on their team.

Boys would come to watch the girls practise but were initially a little hostile. It was there that the skills of Jimmy Ouma would come in, always a strong supporter of girls while appeasing other members of the village. The boys were given a ball. They were involved in creating a net. When the girls played their wrap-up game at the end of the camp, the boys were asked to play an opener.

Read more: Kelowna fundraiser returns to support African grandmothers

Read more: Father, former child soldier, seeks better life for family in Shuswap

The Salmon Arm women marvelled at what a feminist Jimmy Ouma is, without ever being raised with that term.

He runs netball for young mothers. He asked that the gifts the girls were given at the end of the camp be sanitary pads, so they could continue their schooling and participation in village life. He continues to push for girls’ education.

“Jimmy told us of the 35 or 36 girls we had, only 10 of them will be available to go to secondary school,” said Kairo.

Once girls are 14 and finish Grade 7, they often are married and become pregnant.

During the cultural exchange spearheaded by Cathy Stubington and supported by Shuswap residents, 16 girls were funded so they could finish their education. The Salmon Arm women hope to continue that work.

Thanks to support from Salmon Arm and elsewhere, the women were able to leave sanitary pads, soccer balls, two nets and two sets of jerseys in Akonjo. Most of the goods were purchased in Kenya.

They want soccer to be sustainable in the village, rather than just a one-week camp. So far they’ve heard from Jimmy Ouma that the girls have been practising and he was hoping to hold a tournament.

Kairo says Jimmy Ouma is a kind of father figure in the village. She was pleased to see that his nephews “are morphing into little Jimmy’s.”

Read more: Evening of music Feb. 18 provides education for girls in Kenya

Read more: Group reaches out to Africa

Lizzy said the people in Akonjo came to understand what she and the two young women were doing as the days went by. At the end, the males relaxed and began cheering for the girls. More residents would join the Canadian women as they walked to the field.

One interaction in particular stood out for her. Lizzy said every day at the camp, they would get all the girls together to do a chant and a cheer that ended with, “Girl power!”

On the last day, she had to run back to the house for something. On the way back to the field, an “old, very wrinkly” woman, who would not have been exposed to women and sport, came up to her. At first, Lizzy thought she was going to say something mean. Instead, she did something that brought tears to Lizzy’s eyes.

“She grabbed my arm, and said, ‘Girl power!’”

If you would like more information or would like to help an Akonjo girl through secondary school, email Kairo at: kairomair@gmail.com.


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Girls in Akonjo Village in Kenya who took part in a girls’ soccer camp pose in front of their newly constructed net. At end of rows are Lizzy Mair, Kairo Mair and Libby Olson from Salmon Arm, with their host and coordinator Jimmy Ouma Okello in the middle of the front row. (Contributed)

Girls in Akonjo Village in Kenya who took part in a girls’ soccer camp pose in front of their newly constructed net. At end of rows are Lizzy Mair, Kairo Mair and Libby Olson from Salmon Arm, with their host and coordinator Jimmy Ouma Okello in the middle of the front row. (Contributed)

Jimmy Ouma Okello with Kairo Mair in Akonjo Village in Kenya. (contributed)

Jimmy Ouma Okello with Kairo Mair in Akonjo Village in Kenya. (contributed)

Time to wash the soccer jerseys that were brought to Akonjo Village. (Photo contributed)

Time to wash the soccer jerseys that were brought to Akonjo Village. (Photo contributed)

Jimmy Ouma hands out equipment while Lizzy Mair looks over at Libby Olson and Kairo Mair during the soccer camp they put on in Akonjo village in Kenya. (Photo contributed)

Jimmy Ouma hands out equipment while Lizzy Mair looks over at Libby Olson and Kairo Mair during the soccer camp they put on in Akonjo village in Kenya. (Photo contributed)

Girls in Akonjo village get ready to practise soccer. (Photo contributed)

Girls in Akonjo village get ready to practise soccer. (Photo contributed)

Girls in Akono Village in Kenya carry out a soccer drill during their soccer camp in February organized by three Salmon Arm women. (Photo contributed)

Girls in Akono Village in Kenya carry out a soccer drill during their soccer camp in February organized by three Salmon Arm women. (Photo contributed)

Just Posted

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Gord Portman getting ready for the Father’s Day dunk tank fundraiser for Discovery House. So far Portman has raised $3,000. (Facebook)
Portman takes plunge for Penticton recovery house that helped save his life

Gord Portman said Discovery House and Pathways have been everything in his 1 year sobriety

(File photo)
Supreme Court Justice rules Bay has to pay Penticton’s Cherry Lane mall

The ruling found that there had been no unavoidable delay preventing the Bay from paying their rent

Summerland cidery Millionaires' Row is hosting a Father's Day car and art show. (Facebook)
Vintage cars, art and cider for Father’s Day

Summerland’s Millionaires’ Row Cider Co. is hosting the car and art show

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read