Libby Olson, Lizzy Mair and Kairo Mairo take time for a photo following a pre-screening of Olson’s documentary, Project Akonjo, at the Salmar Classic Dec. 23. It was filmed in Akonjo Village in Kenya when the three women went there to put on a soccer camp for girls, an activity normally restricted to boys. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Made in Shuswap film could lead to better lives for girls in Kenyan village

Project Akonjo features soccer for girls, plus barriers to secondary school education

It was a win-win-win.

The audience at the Salmar Classic was enthusiastic, the documentary filmmaker and her fellow travellers were pleased, and the subjects of the film, girls in a Kenyan village, were excited by their experience.

On Monday, Dec. 23, Libby Olson held a pre-screening of a documentary she filmed during a visit to Akonjo Village with Kairo and Lizzy Mair in February. The three women from Salmon Arm went to east Africa to provide a weeklong soccer camp to girls, with sports being the traditional domain of boys.

Money raised from the by-donation pre-screening was sent to Akonjo to pay for a girls’ soccer tournament there.

“We were overwhelmed over how many people showed up,” remarked Kairo after the screening, adding that the main objective was to be able to show supporters how things went in the village and to thank them all.

“We coudn’t have done it without everybody’s help and support.”

Read more: Salmon Arm women’s experience teaching soccer in Kenya subject of documentary

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

With the project being community based, Libby said it was exciting to see a large part of that community watching the film at the Salmar and being able to say, ‘hey, I donated $50 for some jerseys – oh, there’s the jerseys…’

“They can see where their money was going and how they were helping…,” Libby said.

Kairo emphasized that any part community members played, large or small, was important and helped make the project possible.

Lizzy, who has been an instructor with Girls Only Soccer School for more than 20 years, remembers thinking in 2010 that it would be great to offer a girls soccer camp in Akonjo Village. At that time Jimmy Ouma Okello from Akonjo was visiting Salmon Arm, thanks to an exchange created by him and Cathy Stubington of Runaway Moon Theatre. Part of the exchange included banners made in both Salmon Arm and Akonjo, each supporting girls’ soccer in the other’s community.

Related: Salmon Arm women bring soccer to girls in Kenyan village

Related: Girls Only Soccer School back for their 22nd year in Salmon Arm

The idea of a soccer 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 was taking development studies at the University of Calgary, while Libby was working on her motion picture arts degree at Capilano University in North Vancouver.

Through the initial cultural exchange begun over 10 years ago, money was raised to ultimately put 16 Akonjo girls through secondary school, which is not free, so they could escape the fate of having to get married and become mothers at a young age. The hope now is to sponsor more girls.

After the screening, Lizzy remarked: “Going forward, we want to promote it so that people will now see the girls we want to sponsor. They’re on that screen. They’re real people, they’ve got needs, and those are the ones you can sponsor – and they’ll be going to school and it will make a huge difference.”

Kairo reiterated what Jimmy Ouma, who dedicates his time to helping support girls through school, had to say.

“Jimmy always said that going in, the best opportunity for these girls to be successful in life is to get them through secondary school. I would probably agree it would be the same thing here in Canada; kids to get their high school is ensuring their best opportunity later on.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Akonjo Project or sponsoring a girl through secondary school, email Kairo at:
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Girls in Akonjo village get ready to practise soccer. (Photo 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. (Photo contributed)

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