Mercy Vugutsa was nine years old when she joined Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA)-run soccer programme for girls in 2002."I wanted to save my mother from struggling to provide us with food, clothing, school fees and other necessities from the scholarship money I anticipated earning from soccer whenever we won a tournament. I also wanted to avoid getting into bad company and getting pregnant as I had seen other girls in the slum do," says 13-year-old Vugutsa whose team, True Colours, won the Under 16 prize in the fourth MYSA International Girls Tournament that was played in Nairobi April 6-9, 2007. Each girl in her team earned a Sh10000 (about US$134) prize with which to pay school fees. Vugutsa plans to continue playing football and even become a coach to train more women in the game that is making a difference for many in one of the largest slums in Nairobi.
Serah Odeke, a goalkeeper with Mathare United: "Football keeps idleness and vice, premarital sex, venereal diseases and AIDS, premature death, prostitution, early pregnancy, and illegal drugs at bay but also enables me to earn a living."
To succeed in soccer, the girls agree that one must be deaf to taunts from society, respect oneself and be determined to keep in the harness. Then they earn the money with which they pay school fees, buy books and uniform, games kit, mattresses and blankets for themselves and their families. Soccer has also enabled these girls of lowly backgrounds to travel to places like The Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Tanzania and Uganda for tournaments. Women have also been trained to coach, referee, and administer soccer.
Playing football in Kenya's largely conservative society is an uphill task for women; they are considered either 'masculine women' or 'not women enough'. Boys shun such girls till they see what they have earned from the game.
MYSA not only empowers and unites people through soccer but also markets Mathare whenever the slum women win tournaments.