These girls have dropped out of school but boxing is keeping them strong. Here is a conversation that they had with Jackie Waithaka and Suleimani on Chanuka Dada Live Mtaani.
A Conversation in Majengo
“Why are you not in school?”
“My mother could not afford the school fees and some of the demands set by the school so I was not able to.” Christine answered. She was more chatty than the two girls seated with me under the shade of old and rusting iron sheets that roofed us.
At around 3 PM that Friday afternoon, our location was the ‘Discipline First Boxing Club’ in the sprawling Majengo Ghetto in Githurai 44.
Christine, 16, and her best friend Pinky, 15, are part of the girl’s team training under the watchful eyes of a man they all fondly call ‘Kochez’. Under the strict guidance of the soft spoken trainer; 36 young men and 7 young girls get a chance to practice boxing as a sport and hobby as well. But there is more to this boxing club than meets the eyes.
“I train youngsters from as young as 4 years with the eldest being about 30 years old. Most of them are homeless and live in the streets. Most are into drugs and substance abuse… but the one thing they all have in common is that, for one reason or another, all have dropped out of school,”Kochez explains.
Kochez further explained that he started the boxing club to “try and take their attention from the drugs and the street life and hopefully get their young minds into sports and other meaningful activities before they are too far gone.”
“Take a look at this young girl,” He pointed at Christine who was now gloved up and punching determination into the hanging canvas bag, “and that youth over there…”
The youth, a 14 year old, had just half-staggered into the compound. He was busy sniffing into the piece of rag firmly secured in his fist and held over his nose. He was sniffing on Resin, a switch from the usual glue associated with street urchins.
The highly flammable, highly addictive industrial substance is sold cheap, it is easily available in the streets and is famed for that never-ending kick… as long as one keeps sniffing on it.
To keep the high on, a piece of clothe is dipped in the clear chemical and held constantly over the nose.
On seeing the trainer, the youth immediately hid the piece of rag from view and wore that guilty I-wasn’t-doing-nothing-bad look. It didn’t work.
However, he was welcomed by the trainer in mid-sentence and was directed to the training rooms.
“We need to guide them with understanding.” Kochez said,” Don’t criticize, always encourage.
Because if no one takes the initiative to contain their ways and curve some discipline in them this early age in their lives, the girl will probably end up pregnant or infected with STI’s.
The youths have it worse; it’s a life of crime and eventual, definite death…that is assuming that they both survive the streets, the drugs and substances abuses.”
About 30 per cent, or three out of 10 students, who enroll for school in Class One in Kenya, fail to sit for the KCPE, signifying the high rate of either dropout or repetition of grades.
Those who drop out of school have limited chances of meaningful engagement and may end up in the streets.
Those who do end up in the streets contribute to the population of between 250,000 and 300,000 throughout Kenya, including 60,000 street children in Nairobi alone.
“If you ask most of my students why they done dropped out of school or ran away from home, a good number will tell you that difficult times at home led to their predicaments. Marital conflicts leading to family break ups, irresponsible parenting coupled with abject poverty at home is a common narrative out here. For them, drug use is a way to cope.”
As I was leaving, the two boxing girls of Githurai confessed that they really would have loved an opportunity to study further. I remember Pinky’s words when she said, “If I get a well wisher to fund my studies I would go to school and study hard so that I can help my mother and small sister live a better life one day.” But for now she has to content with what little her single mother provides, spending her days nursing her younger sibling and training in boxing in the evenings.
But for how long?