During my most recent trip to Kenya a good friend and colleague, Kevin Odhiambo, LCFL's Program Coordinator, asked why I don’t blog. We've grown a lot since I was blogging in Kenya seven years ago (My Original Blog).
This year I pledge to make a change - to stop hiding behind the organizations I oversee and work with. It's time to share my life with anyone who wants to read about it. To raise it up and say look what I have accomplished with the amazing people I work with, here in the US, and overseas in Kenya.
My initial experiences in Kenya has led me to pursue a career in sports and development that centers around the concept of Power of Play, the title of my blog. The idea behind the Power of Play concept is that no matter what it is - sports, music, dance, etc. - the ability to play in a safe and structured environment allows for children of all ages to lead and live a better life. Today, I oversee and work with Columbus East Soccer Association (CESA), Columbus East FC (CEFC), Blumberg & Company (B&Co), and of course the Likoni Community Football League (LCFL).
Today's blog will focus on the LCFL, and my most recent trip to Kenya. In future posts, I will dive into my professional career and the other companies and organizations listed above, and how we are making a positive impact in the communities we work in.
My Most Recent Trip to Kenya
The Likoni Community Football League is operated under my leadership, and is still primarily funded and supported by local events in Columbus, and by my US friends and family. Each year its leadership on the ground continues to strengthen. The management team and coaches now look at each other as brothers in arms, fighting together to better Likoni, one of the poorest slums in Kenya. I’ve said it many times, the organization does not just provide for the local youth, but it also provides a platform for the local people, like LCFL's coaches, to give back and simply do good. I have hired and continue to supervise two amazing people, Kevin Odhiambo and Yusuf Abbas Mwabundu. And recently, we added a third member to our staff, Zena Iddi, who is known as one of the best ever female soccer players to come out of Likoni.
Over the past two years youth gangs have risen up in Likoni. And today, it is a constant issue in the community. Unfortunately, in January 2018, I had first-hand experience of watching a gang fight breakout and fans and players had to run from the fields. I won’t go into detail, but it was not the most pleasant experience. The LCFL insists on its clubs being gang free, and is a constant deterrent to any child joining a gang. Our org prides itself on working with coaches to educate, mentor and advise its players to avoid negative influences like gangs and drugs.
During my most recent trip, I was able to bring along my good friend, Max Rosenthal (Max shot most, if not all of the photos you'll see on this blog - thank you Max!) . I’ve known Max for three years, ever since he began coaching with CEFC. Out of the three weeks I was there, Max was there for the final two. We scheduled times for him to visit LCFL’s local clubs and coach the senior teams, while I coached the youth teams (almost every club in the LCFL has a senior team and a youth team). We scheduled meetings with coaches, where he sat in and could hear the issues that arose in a community like Likoni - running a youth soccer league or a club is a bit different from running one in Columbus. For example, LCFL’s management team and coaches have to worry about players coming to the field and leaving hungry. Likoni’s youth average 1.5 meals per day. Therefore, the LCFL has set up a feeding program each Sunday, so every child can look forward to a meal after they compete.
Child of Mercy Orphanage Centre
I also arranged for Max to stay with me in a local orphanage, Child of Mercy. There, with other volunteers from Germany and Spain, we woke up every morning to 30-40 kids singing before they went to school. We washed clothes by hand, played small-sided soccer, ate, sang, danced, over the weekends took these beautiful, loving kids to the local beach on the Indian Ocean and jumped, ran, swam and laughed with them. We made bracelets, read to them in the orphanage’s library, and worked with them on their homework late into the evening. There, we connected with each child, knowing that they have already lived an incredibly hard life in their short time on this world. You cannot compare their life to ours (mine and Max's), and what we grew up with - it's not possible. These kids are amazing inside and out. Child of Mercy Orphanage Centre is a special organization run by great people.
Safari, Local Wedding, Old Town Mombasa, Kenya's Nightlife
And we did more...
We went on a full-day safari where we witnessed a different, but just as beautiful side of Kenya. We saw elephants (so many elephants), lions, a leopard in a tree!, monkeys, black eagles, giant birds, and more.
We ate Biryani at a local wedding, and watched the bride, groom and their family celebrate in song and dance.
We went on a tour of Old Town Mombasa, where we learned about its history. We took pictures of the streets and buildings filled with vibrant colors, and incredible architecture.
And we drank local beer and went to local dance clubs with what I now call my Kenyan family, and the amazing volunteers we met during our time in Kenya.
Since the organization has been founded, I have been able to bring several of my good friends to Kenya, and watch them experience East Africa for the first time. I hope more and more of my friends, and my friends' friends will join me on my future annual, and sometimes bi-annual visits.
Throughout the year I receive weekly updates and constantly oversee the organization from abroad. But, when I visit, I get to see with my own eyes the growth and continuous positive impact it is making in Likoni. I get to speak with our coaches and management team about the future and what we can accomplish - our goals, desires, and how to move forward.
This Year: Purchase Land, Third Staff Member, Volunteer Program
Going forward, we want to purchase 2 acres of land. This will ensures LCFL’s place in Likoni for years to come. If we have our own field the League will have a true home. Today, we work with local schools, and at times have trouble and have to move to a different location due to the politics in the area. It is $30,000 for 2 acres of land and we are starting to look for a donors and sponsors to raise the money we need for our eventual home.
This April we hired on a third staff member, Zena Iddi. Zena will head our girls program, which will be a hard and tedious task. However, Zena, known as one of the best ever Women soccer players in Likoni, is ready and more than capable for the job. She has played professionally in Kenya, and personally I can say, she is an incredibly bright woman with an even brighter future with the LCFL.
Thank you to James Field and Soccer Field Academy (SFA), who have sponsored Change Youth Academy’s Senior team to play in the Football Kenya Federation County League. James traveled with me in 2017 and is planning on traveling back next year to give his time and coaching expertise. The LCFL, with the help of SFA, has chosen Change Youth Academy as the senior club this year to support due to its quality and constant positive environment it provides for its coaches and youth players.
The past two years the LCFL has brought in two volunteers and it wants to be able to bring in more. It has partnered with Child of Mercy, which can provide a safe place to stay, more volunteer experiences in the local orphanage, and food. We will be setting up a volunteer package for people and groups interested in international development, sports, education, and experiencing Kenya.
The LCFL has made it its mission to have its own senior team in the next two years. We have the goal to produce the best players in Kenya, and one day see a player from Likoni playing in a top League in Africa or Europe.
This year’s fundraising goal is: $50,000
To all the sponsors and supporters who have given, whether it is money, equipment, or advice, thank you - you should be proud of the LCFL. I know I am.