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.
The trip had its roots in a visit from Jimmy Ouma to Salmon Arm in 2010. 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.
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.
“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.
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.
Lizzy said the people in Akonjo came to understand what she and the two young women were doing as the days went by.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.