Through The Kick-Off To Hope Foundation, Musa Otieno Has Turned His Love For Football To Bring Change To Young People And The Community In Nairobi. The Foundation Runs A Football Academy In The Deprived Eastlands Section Of Nairobi For Young Boys And Girls, While Helping The Local Community.

The name Musa Otieno is synonymous with football in Kenya – especially in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, where the love for football comes as second nature to young people and adults alike.

As a former captain of the national football team of Kenya, Harambee Stars, Musa has been one of the few players to play in the local football premier league, play and captain the national team on many occasions, join a foreign team and then later, even become an Assistant coach for the national team. Few players have managed to rise to the heights that Musa reached in his football career, especially in Kenya, where only a few of the promising football players ever get to succeed beyond playing for local clubs.

With 105 games for the Kenyan national team, Musa’s professional football career took him to South Africa as a young man, where he played for the leading Premier Soccer League side Santos FC for 15 years, breaking records, including one that still stands to date for the most number of appearances by any player in the club. After more than 300 appearances and scoring more than 30 goals for Santos, Musa had a brief stint in the USA before retiring back to Kenya in 2011.

A highly disciplined and God-fearing individual, Musa says that it is these two character traits that enable him to scale the ladder of success in his football career, and which he is imparting on to the next wave of footballers and other leaders in Kenya through his Kick-Off to Hope Foundation, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Turning passion into a movement

Born and raised in Maringo Estate in the Eastland’s side of Nairobi city, Musa was born as the 7th child in a family of 11. 

“We were several boys in the family and football was my and my brothers’ passion. I was raised a community child, and this centre is all about passion for football,” Musa informs us, as we settle down to an interview at the centre.  It is this passion for the game, which he has turned into the passion to bring forward the next wave of leaders in his community that drives Musa forward.

The Kick-Off to Hope Foundation runs a community centre and football academy at Dr. Krapf Primary School in Maringo, that has enrolled more than 200 children, many of them from Eastlands for football and life skills training. 

“I look at this centre and football as a tool that can bring this community together. You know sometimes you don’t need to have much. Our centre is not just about football, it’s a matter of these kids coming in here and we give them hope. That hope that they can do something and achieve more in their lives. We started this Foundation to give these kids hope by using the tool of football after we realised that for us to change this community, we need to have a healthy community.”

At the centre, the children are categorized the kids into 4 different groups: the recreation group, who are 5 to 8 years and just want to come to the centre to have fun, observe and begin learning the game from the older kids; the foundation group, which is for those between 9-12 years. This group joins their age group, where they begin playing the football training system that has been put in place by Musa and his team. The next group is the ready-to-compete group that are 13-14 years old and is ready to go and start playing competitive football, while those beyond 15 years are in the seniors group.

“At the centre we have both boys and girls and all are encouraged to come, learn and play,” Musa informs us, adding that each age group has a coach and an assistant coach who are former senior players in the game. He reveals that the coaches and assistant coaches are continuously being guided and given positions of leadership to ensure the sustainable growth of the Foundation and its activities, even when Musa is not available.

At the Centre, young boys and girls are taught critical football and life skills that they can utilise to better their lives and that of the community

Musa reveals that running the football academy and the centre has its many challenges but he is appreciative of the support given to them by past team mates and other well-wishers who have been supporting the centre, even as they struggle to make ends meet most of the time.

“We have several challenges but we are trying our level best to do our job. The ratio of coaches to players is very low but the children understand us and we are managing with the resources we have to produce quality players who are also well rounded in other life skills. Remember our centre is not all about football, it’s a place where they can feel they are loved. It’s a place where they feel that whatever talent they have, they can pursue it to higher levels. We currently have 5 coaches who are graduates coming from this same community who come to help these children with their training and support, including academic matters,” he reiterates.

“These kids need role models. Kenya needs role models and every member of the society needs a role model – somebody who can walk with them and for me coming back to where I was born, grew up and went to school is a great honour, especially seeing the kind of impact we have managed to achieve in this community, in our own special way.”

Through his friends, with whom he played football in South Africa, and later, USA the centre has been receiving some critical support to facilitate the delivery of its goals. “My friends have been supporting us with used playing kits that the kids wear during practice and games; these kits seem old but here in Africa, they are well appreciated and seem new. I cannot do it alone. It’s a journey … it’s a journey which we want these kids to go through with the talents they have. 

The new curriculum in Kenya recognizes talent, sports being one of them; it’s about sports and education. The kids need to trust in God and believe in God and for me when they look at me they see a story, and when I look at their eyes I see a story … may be one of the kids will go on to become a successful engineer, a doctor, some may even become soccer players – not all, but at least they will learn something at this centre. They will have hope. This place is for them and they can feel they are at home.”

Improving the school’s capacity

Having grown up just a few meters from Dr. Krapf Primary School, Musa’s choosing of the school as the location for the Foundation’s activities came easily. He is an alumnus of the school, where he went through his primary school education, before proceeding to the nearby Ofafa Jericho Secondary School, venturing into youth football and graduating to the regular level of the game by the time he was 16 years old.

Part of the activities that Musa is involved in at the school has been to help improve the infrastructure of the school, which considering its location within the low income area of Maringo, had seen its infrastructure dilapidated and with it, the standards of education offered at the school had deteriorated significantly.

“The conditions of this school when I came here was pathetic, if I could say so. I could not believe that this is the school that has produced all the big names in Kenyan football history, including my younger brother Erick Omondi, George Owino and Brian Mandera, who have all made their names plying their talent for local and international teams and the national team,” he moans. 

“But, we also had to contend with the fact that poor funding and lax management of public schools in Nairobi are cancers that have eaten into the very future of our communities, which has resulted into the schools failing to guide young students towards the path of excellence and success in life,” Musa explains.

It is this sad state of affairs in the school and the community that convinced Musa to look for ways he could make a change in his community and his former school. By setting up the Foundation and having its activities at the school, which is located in one of the most deprived parts of Nairobi, where high levels of poverty has led to high rates of crime, alcohol and drug abuse and dysfunctional families, he seeks to empower the next group of young talent. “We just took football to the community and said that football will bring the discipline side and the healthy side too to our kids and the community at large.”

The Foundation has, through its friends, equipped the school’s computer lab with 20 computers, as it seeks to improve the digital skills of the school’s more than 600 students. However, as the number shows, the computers are badly inadequate to meet the needs of the students. 

Further, to improve the health status of the kids, Musa and the team have just finished a major project that removed the banned asbestos roofing from the entire school, replacing them with corrugated iron sheets; while a new dining room for the students is awaiting the installation of the right seating to enable students to have their meals in a better environment. 

“These are things that I did not have when I was growing up in this same environment but now we have them through the donation of friends who have come to support us,” he says. He intends to continue with the improvement is infrastructure, whenever funding allows, with plans to install water harvesting and hand washing facilities in the school, considering the emergence of the corona virus in the country.

Challenges galore

Musa believes that the Foundation’s work with the kids can be better served with corporate or individual partners joining together with them to improve the capability of the centre – which he says receives young people from across Nairobi.

“One major challenge we face lies in the provision of meals to the children during the weekends and the school holiday periods, when the children are always at the centre to continue with their development. These are quite difficult times for me because I also have a family to take care of and I have these kids. My joy would be if we can at least get some porridge for the kids to drink before coming to train and even more, at lunch time to get something to eat. If a kid is training twice in a day then we find that they do not have energy to handle afternoon sessions whenever they have not had any meal,” he appeals.

Musa believes that everybody has been given a gift in life, and it is important to use this gift to impact others in the society. “I always ask, what are you doing with the gift that you have been given? God has given you a gift. What can you do to help the society wherever you are?” he poses. With the Kick-Off to Hope Foundation, he believes he has found his calling and is confident and hopeful that the future of young children will continue to be impacted positively for many years to come

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This feature appeared in the April 2020 edition of Africa Inc. magazine. You can access the full digital magazine HERE