Michael Branch is a coach at Futurepro. This was his first time to come to Kenya and he kept a diary of his experience. Four days before his flight, suspected terror threats brought UK airports to a standstill...
DAY 1 - Saturday 12th August
We arrived at Heathrow at 6.30am, and were instructed to wait outside the terminal for an hour due to the recent bomb threats. Once let inside the terminal, it was rammed. There were policemen with guns everywhere, and the whole atmosphere felt edgy. We finally got booked in and put our bags through about 8am. More queuing followed for at least another hour just to get ‘air side’; we all got searched top to toe.
Arrived at Nairobi airport, relieved that the journey had gone quite quickly, and proceeded to sort out the paperwork for our visas.
We met Tony, one of the founders of Footsteps, and he took us to our cab outside. A worn Nissan truck was waiting, old, rusty and not very safe. As we were loading our bags, a Kenyan approached me, he put out his hand, so I shook it and said hello. Tony hurriedly told me to jump in the van as he was actually after my money.
The journey to the hotel was about 40 minutes and felt incredibly strange. The surroundings were really built up with flat roads at first, then suddenly became bare the further we got.
When we arrived, armed guards took us to our hotel. It really felt strange being the only white people around and witnessing their reactions to us. We dumped our bags and went down to the bar; getting to sleep at around 2am (taxis beeped their horns continuously outside the hotel in Nairobi).
DAY 2 - Sunday 13th August
I woke up at 8.30am with a loud bang on the door for breakfast downstairs. Afterwards we put our bags in the safe room and headed out.
The streets were mental and very different to what I was used to seeing. We definitely stuck out like sore thumbs and it was an odd feeling. Everywhere you looked people were either begging or trying to sell something. The streets were very dirty and dry. The cars on the roads had no rules at all to follow, the bravest always pushing their way through first. It looked like a kind of controlled mayhem.
We arrived at an old looking building where a small, yet invaluable internet café had been set up. It had about 20 computers and chairs, but no room to swing a cat. We sent our messages to home, and left to experience the other side of Nairobi. The difference in living conditions was astonishing. Men wearing suits and ties, driving nice cars and going to work in extravagant buildings.
We all went to the Hilton Hotel and is where I first met James. He was a young, well dressed black man, with the biggest smile I think I have ever seen. James actually runs the internet café for Footsteps and was so welcoming.
After the meet and greet we had to return to our hotel to collect our bags. We re-loaded them, under the guards watch, into a small rusty mini-bus and 30 minutes later were back at Nairobi airport ready for the final leg of the journey.
Once we had all booked in, we proceeded through to the departure lounge. There were two waiting rooms available. One was full of well dressed people, men and women, going on holiday to Mombasa and the other was our room. After 5 minutes we noticed that the ‘business class’ room was showing the Charity Shield football match, so I asked the security guard if we could go through. He gave me a big smile and said Jambo (welcome).
When we saw our plane come in, our hearts sank. The 60 seater was so old looking and not good for those already suffering from a fear of flying. However, the flight was only 40 minutes long and I managed to sleep most of the way.
Not for the faint-hearted?
When we arrived at Kisumu, the Airport terminal was no larger than the ground floor of our house at home. We waited outside to collect our luggage and watched an amazing sun set. We met another Tony, he was our taxi driver, and again the transport was shocking. We drove for about 20 minutes through some of the worst places I have ever seen. Small shack type shelters erected everywhere, and the conditions were so poor that most children did not own clothes. There was rubbish everywhere which contributed to the strong stench in the air. Some were even collecting the junk in order to sell it for a tiny amount, storing and then carrying it on their heads to enable them to carry it for miles. It really did make me feel thoroughly sick as I reflected on how we live and what we have compared to this.
The 1* hotel in Kisumu wasn’t too bad. Its tiny rooms had a basin, a shower and I could at least have a shower with warm water (the hotel in Nairobi had had no running hot water that morning). We met up with the other volunteers in the bar, who had already been in Africa for a week, and all seemed really nice with stories to tell about their trip so far. After a quick beer we all got back into the battle tank and headed off for dinner.
Dinner was fine but did take over an hour to arrive, even though the place wasn’t busy. We spoke about the plans for the following day and I had to explain to the group what we were intending to do with the children so, I ran through the session planners I had prepared. Everyone seemed to like and understand our ideas and said they were looking forward to the kids running to fresh faces for a change, rather than them continually getting mobbed.
I got to bed earlier tonight, at about 11 pm, as the travelling was beginning to wear me out.
DAY 3 - Monday 14th August
It took a while longer to answer the door this morning as I got stuck in my mosquito net. Due to the high risk of malaria, I made a thorough attempt to keep mozzies from getting in by tucking the net securely all the way round my bed, but this also prevented me from getting out easily in the morning.
After breakfast, we travelled 40 minutes to the school. It, again, was a culture shock. So many tiny shacks at the side of the road, all trying to sell anything they had. The roads were impossible with huge pot holes to contend with. We turned off the ‘main road’ on to a dirt track. It was bumpy with even more pot holes. Five minutes of being thrown all over the place, we saw some old tin shacks; we had arrived.
Forty children were waiting outside to greet us all singing and dancing their hearts out; what an amazing welcome. As we left the van, the children ran towards us, smelling and touching us. The feelings were immense and nothing like I had ever experienced before. We were introduced to the Head Teacher. He gave me a hug and asked us to join him in his office (literally holding my hand all the way)! He said a prayer to wish us a safe stay and we were then shown around the school grounds. There were 4 buildings for their new classrooms and a new herbal garden, to teach the children about their surrounding plants. This was mainly for medicinal purposes and I later realized that most minor ailments, such as nausea, were often treated by using a remedy from the garden.
Once I had explained the sporting plan of action for the week, we headed out on to the field. It was huge with shrub boundaries yet full of rubble. We cleared much of it so that we could mark certain areas out with cones. Every move the coaches made, the children followed. Ninety children must have been surrounding us at one point, and we were only marking out the pitches. They were just fascinated, and best of all, eager to get on.
L to R: Victor, Michael, Brett & David
The teacher introduced me to my assistant called Victor while the other coaches began their sessions. Victor (19yrs) was a well spoken and friendly Kenyan man. I guided him through the plan I had bought with me and also gave him a Future Pro T-Shirt. The joy and gratitude was enormous; big hug again!
Victor called the first group of 5 & 6 year olds over. The children were so tiny and very cute. None of them owned a pair of shoes and played barefoot on the field. They were wearing whatever they could to look presentable but all managed to participate without a care in the world. An hour long session has never passed so quickly.
After lunch we took the older group of 13 & 14 year olds. These children understood more English and we could therefore communicate with them a little better. Some of the children were very tall, towering over me but some of the children were incredibly small. I was informed that this was a common result of the prevalent AIDS disease.
Today’s were definitely the best football sessions I have ever taken. I even had to participate throughout because it was so much fun. Another memorable experience from today was the crowd. Many children and adults stood and watched each lesson, as many as 200 at some points, all eager to watch the proceedings. We really needed some sort of crowd control as balls were being nabbed by older kids! Overall it was a brilliant day. At 3.30pm we stopped, as the mini bus had arrived, and said goodbye followed by 200 hand shakes and hugs. Today was the most rewarding day ever.
DAY 4 - Tuesday 15th August
After a shower and breakfast, we took the 40 minute mini bus journey back to the school. We discussed the night before that I was keen on building the school some football goals. Tony said that we could stop off on the way and pick up some timber. After driving for 20 minutes, Mike, another volunteer, & I jumped out at the ‘timber yard’ which, was actually a small metal shack with odds and sods outside, and all the different types of wood you could need. It took 10 minutes to locate the type of wood that we wanted and then loaded it on to the roof rack.
Stuck in the mud?
We arrived at the school and began the first session with the 5 & 6 year olds. We attempted to play stuck in the mud with footballs as a warm up however, all of the children just stood still! After some more demos and translating, we got going, and they loved it.
All of the children had remembered my name and just kept shouting it out which, they found incredibly funny. We did some passing in the session today and the children picked it up so quickly. Their concentration levels were excellent and all really started to show signs of improvement.
We put the children into teams, so that we could play some fun matches, but by this time there were again around 200 children spectating. The problem was that older boys from another school began to kick the footballs away and steal the area cones. The teacher had to come over and shout at them but this scenario occurred at least 5 times before the matches could get underway. I understood the boys' frustrations, in a way. They were not used to events like this taking place, near to where they lived, and just wanted to be part of the action. We therefore decided today that it would be fairer to distribute our 80 footballs that we had brought between the local schools (5 each), instead of giving them all to the children of just one school.
We finally played the matches and everyone had great fun with lots of smiling and laughing. Once we had finished, I got all of the children from both groups to sit together for a photograph. When we were ready, we did a demo of 1, 2, 3, cheese, and they all copied intently. Their urgency to see themselves back, once the photo had been taken, was strong, all individually pointing out their friends’ faces as well as their own.
During the lunch break the Head Teacher approached me with a large man called Peter. The head told me that he was an ex Kenyan International football player and that he was thoroughly grateful and very happy for the coaching that we have been doing, even offering to help out himself. I can’t believe I’m coaching with an ex-pro who has played against Brazil!
The second session was again the older children who were all noticeably taller than me. Some of the children were amazing and possess such natural ability, so regrettably I decided to play in the match at the end of the day. After 5 minutes of pure fun, Peter found it hard to resist, and also joined in with the game. The children didn’t hold back, incredibly fast with strong tackles. I even fell over, to the hilarious delight of the kids, but before I knew it, 10 children were all trying to help me up again. This really is the most rewarding experience ever; such fantastic children who are dramatically yet surprisingly easier to coach than those at home in England!
Fifa approved goalposts
After lunch, Mike introduced me to the local carpenter. I explained my ideas about the football posts and what exactly it was that we wanted, including the exact measurements. We collected the timber, with the ongoing help of at least 30 children, and began to dig the holes for the goals and sawing the wood to the correct heights. Twenty minutes later and we had the perfect goal. We had to leave the second post, as we needed to collect more timber, so said that we would return tomorrow with more.
There were 2 more coaching sessions in the afternoon (30 kids in each) but these children had come from a different local school. Again they were fantastic and a real pleasure to teach. After the session we were hot, shattered and incredibly dusty. We ventured inside one of the new classrooms where Suzanne (also founder of Footsteps) was painting the walls with the children, using their feet to make prints of ‘footsteps’. A little boy named Kevin (6 yrs) decided that he wanted to paint my feet. I could not stop laughing throughout and neither could he. We then crawled over to the wall and placed my painted foot upon it. Kevin decided that I wasn’t doing it right and, still laughing his head off, pushed my foot harder against the wall. By this time the mini bus had arrived, so we got our feet cleaned and jumped in, after completing another 200 ‘high fives’.
DAY 5 - Wednesday 16th August
Woke up at 7am to the sound of a cockerel screaming its head off.
Once at the school we set up for the session but noticed that Victor was not there. I asked Monica, the Deputy Head, where he was and she told me that he had a few family problems and would probably be in a bit later. The first group of children came running over to where we had set up, all now chanting “football, football”. Again the children were barefooted with few clothes, if they did posses any they were worn and ripped. I told the Head boy, Eric, what we intended to do for the lesson and he translated it to the children. Within seconds they were ready to go, all in a line and 2 in the middle just as we had asked. It was so easy. The lesson was based on Heading & Control, and after a quick demo, they went off to practice in their pairs. They were such good learners and a pure joy to watch.
We repeated the same session for the 8 & 9 year olds and were noticeably better than most children of that age in England, even the girls excelled.
At lunchtime I decided to lie down for while outside in the shade. Within 10 minutes I had around 30 children sitting next to me, all starring intently with their big white eyes and huge grins. When the school bell rang, they shot off to line up for class. I have never seen so many children with such respect for their elders.
Push bikes were the chosen transport to get to dinner tonight: driver at the front and a padded seat for you to perch on at the back. It was a very entertaining experience, one that would have been more enjoyable if it hadn’t given me such painful leg cramp. Laughing turned into fear when we realized that these bikes tended to race each other on the scary, rule-less roads.
DAY 6 - Thursday 17th August
We left for the school this morning and were waved off by a little African girl who couldn’t have been any older than 2 years old. She was so gorgeous with shiny white teeth, sparkly eyes and little braids in her hair. As we waved back from our seats in the bus, she suddenly got really shy and ran off.
We also stopped off to pick the rest of the timber up today. I jumped out with the driver and walked over to another little timber yard, again with various types of wood for sale. As soon as the owner saw us (2 white men), he called his men and 5 came running to greet us. There were hand shakes all round, big smiles and genuinely really friendly. He asked what it was we were looking for and had sorted out in seconds. We had to haggle slightly as our driver told me the price was way too much but once we had agreed a price, we had a deal.
We offered the money to the men outside who promptly told us not to give it to them but to instead to wait for ‘Mama’. Mama was an old Kenyan lady with a wrinkled face and dodgy teeth but none the less a real character. She wore a brightly coloured blanket and walked with a stick, and obviously took charge of all money. She slowly approached me but stopped a few yards short, asking me to go to her. Mike ushered me forward and instructed me that because she was the ‘elder’, I had to walk to her in order to pay. This process really showed respect. The trip to the yard made me stop and reflect because just as we were leaving she said to me that they were grateful for our custom because it meant that her ‘family would eat tonight’.
The things people will do for Suzanne!
At the school, Magunga Primary, Victor and Eric were already on the field, set up and ready to go. They warily asked whether I minded that they had done this but I was completely chuffed as this was the whole reason for coming. They had looked at my plan and understood it all enough to set the areas up themselves.
Later on the Chairman of the school came over with 4 pupils to ask whether I was ready to make the other goals. He ordered the boys to unload the wood from the bus, gave me a big hug and walked me over to the field to start. It was great fun. They bought over the tools needed for the job and were shockingly hard working. Within 50 minutes we had completed all 4 full sized goals. The Chairman told me that these goals would really be looked after and that the children would get great use from them. He also told me that God had a place for me upstairs because of my generosity; can’t be bad! It really got me what he had said, so I gave him a hug and said thank you.
The whole gang
The sessions were still going well with the children loving every moment, all singing, dancing and generally cheering each other on.
In the afternoon, we set about arranging the mini world cup tournament which, was scheduled for tomorrow and was to be our last day at the school. Seven other schools were coming to play, each bringing 1 boys and 1 girls team. When everything was organized, the Head told me that the elder community members, other pupils and the children’s parents were all going to be watching. Around 1,000 people were expected. This information made me obviously a little nervous and I couldn’t believe what I was taking on. However, I immediately also got more excited.
From the hotel to the Kenyan restaurant in the evening, we used the funniest forms of transport again; push bikes. Racing each other along dusty and bumpy roads made me nearly fall off 2 or 3 times. We ended up coming 5th as our driver had a near miss with a taxi on one of the roundabouts which definitely slowed us down!
DAY 7 - Friday 18th August
We left the hotel early this morning as we needed to get to the school in order to set up in time for the tournament. All of the teachers were waiting inside one of the classrooms, so we decided to go over our plans for the day so that everyone understood.
The morning tournament included just the Magunga children (boys & girls between 6 & 10 yrs old), and was fantastic. The children played so well and all had great fun. Everything went according to plan and the teachers were all very impressed.
Towards the end of lunch, we suddenly saw all of the other children and parents from the other competing schools that had all walked miles just to take part. This was a real sight, a wall of people all coming to support their teams, and the children were keen to start.
winners of the junior boys
The afternoon saw the older children take part in their own tournament. There were 8 boys teams and 8 girls teams in a ‘knock out’ style competition. The finals were electric, with lots of chanting and clapping. The level of football being played was brilliant and all the children that we had been coaching tried really hard to incorporate the skills that we had taught them. The boys and girls teams from Magunga made it through to the final where they both went to penalties. The girls actually won their match and celebrated a 5-3 victory in style with singing and dancing from the crowd. It was the best tournament that I have ever taken part in.
At the end of the day, Magunga School laid on a thank-you/goodbye ceremony in which a prayer of thanks was said to all of the schools who had attended. I was then asked to stand and firstly distribute the footballs we were leaving behind, followed by our football trophies that we were awarding. I sincerely wished that I could’ve given every child a trophy for being so well behaved and motivated.
Senior girls winners - Magunga Primary!
Before leaving the school one last time, Kevin came running up to me and gave me a big hug asking me to remember him and keep in touch. I was choked and seriously close to tears. It was tough leaving all of these people whom I had become close to, especially Victor, Eric and little Kevin. I took some last photos of the kids and told the guys to keep coaching as they had done so well. An emotional time but glad I had done it.
Tonight we flew back to Nairobi and were taken out for a meal by Tony and Suzanne.
DAY 8 - Saturday 19th August
Today we went to Nairobi National Park for a safari. We had to get up at 7am and left the hotel by 7.45am after breakfast. The Safari was excellent. The van we were in had a roof that lifted up to enable you to stand and look out. We travelled around the park for 3 hours and saw some amazing animals close up. I managed to get some great photos and overall had a brilliant experience of the wildlife in Africa.