An idea born in 2010 is springing to life in 2019.
Nearly nine years ago, an unusual young man from Akonjo Village in Kenya came to the Shuswap as part of a cultural exchange. During his visit, Jimmy Ouma Okello visited schools in the area, among them Hillcrest Elementary.
Lizzy Mair, who was working at the school at that time, met him.
Part of the cultural exchange, which was built on a collaboration between Cathy Stubington of Runaway Moon Theatre and Jimmy Ouma, involved the schools creating banners for each other to support a girls’ soccer game in each country.
Jimmy Ouma has spent most of his life in the village working to empower girls, finding ways to support them to complete their education, which has traditionally been the domain of boys.
Liz, who has been an instructor with Girls Only Soccer School nearly since its inception 22 years ago, remembers thinking then how great it would be to offer a girls soccer camp in Akonjo Village.
Lizzy’s daughter Kairo also remembers the visit well; she met Jimmy Ouma at Shuswap Middle School, where the school was doing a fundraiser to improve water quality in the village’s stream. She remembers her mom expressing the wish to run a soccer camp in Akonjo Village, as does Kairo’s friend Libby Olson.
“It was always so far-fetched for my mom,” remembers Kairo. But no longer. About a year ago the young women met with Cathy Stubington, who put them in touch with Jimmy Ouma.
Libby is in her final year of the Motion Picture Arts Degree program at Capilano University in North Vancouver. She grew up playing soccer with Kairo.
“Liz has been my coach since I was five.”
They both rave about the importance of soccer and other sports in their lives.
“We’ve had so many empowering experiences through soccer… Leadership skills and confidence and resilience and self-esteem – all what we believe are important traits that Kai and I have learned through being able to play team sports. And these are also traits we hope we can help the girls with,” says Libby.
The project means Libby will now be able to combine her passion for soccer and documentary storytelling. For Kairo, it fits perfectly with her development studies at the University of Calgary.
With on-the-ground support from Jimmy Ouma, Lizzy, Kairo and Libby are leaving for Akonjo Village on Friday, Feb. 8, where they will be running a soccer camp for girls as well as filming the experience. Accompanying them will be Samuel Wangai, a Capilano student in Motion Picture Arts who moved to Canada in 2012 from Kenya – and whose mother still lives there, and Daniel Irving, a Capilano grad who will act as camera assistant and sound guy.
“Our intention isn’t just to go in for two weeks, run a camp and then leave and not continue,” says Kairo, explaining their hope and Jimmy Ouma’s wish is that a girls’ league be created, just like the boys have. “My mom’s working on a binder and creating resources so a coach can start…”
They also hope the film will spark more long-term support for the Kenyan girls.
In keeping with an exchange of knowledge and culture, the Akonjo girls will be teaching their Canadian visitors netball, their most-played sport.
And the soccer camp will be tailored to meet everyone’s needs. For instance, says Libby, Jimmy Ouma would like the girls to meet after the camp each day so they can talk about issues unrelated to soccer – a kind of support group for girls.
“We thought that was such an amazing idea.”
Because a lack of sanitary pads is an obstacle for girls’ full participation in school and other parts of village life, Jimmy Ouma also requested pads. Instead of prizes at the end of the day, girls will be rewarded with sanitary pads.
“They’re in such dire need for the basic necessities. It’s been very eye opening,” Kairo says. “He’s an amazing feminist – to have someone like Jimmy so invested in female empowerment.”
All three local women say they’re very appreciative of the support from the Salmon Arm community. And Liz, who will be head coach at the Akonjo camp, is particularly proud of all the hard work that’s been done by the two young women she’s coached for so many years.
“All the things that as coaches you want them to do. Their tenacity… They’re such good advocates for girls. It feels like it has come full circle…”
They encourage people who would like to help to go to Indiegogo, Project Akonjo, to donate funds to buy soccer balls, nets, lunch for the participants, running shoes or sanitary pads. The website can be found at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-akonjo#/
If you require further information, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org. An Instagram page has also been launched: @projectakonjo.