In a patriarchal society where culture [still] discriminates against women and some women’s lives have been an unending fight to protect daughters and other girls in the community from the retrogressive cultures like FGM and forced early marriages; football has been a dream come true, a saviour and the only career that Mercy Njeri and Elizabeth Nafula from the Tar Tar girls team want to pursue.
Tar Tar girls from West Pokot qualified for the finals of the first ever Chapa Dimba na Safaricom youth tournament after beating their opponents Arch Bishop Njenga from Western in tough semifinals held at the Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega County.
Aside from almost clenching the title, the girls have also proven that whatever dream you have is not as un-achievable as you think it is and there’s no dream or goal crazy enough to set.
What I found most intriguing about these girls was the fact that they defied so many odds to get to where they are today. A cultural practice like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still running course in some parts of the area. Another practice is forced early marriages despite that culture being criminalised in the country. These [still] ongoing practices however, have not detered their dream of making it big in the football world.
Speaking to Julius Natoka, Coach at Tar Tar girls, he could only speak with a father’s pride at the accomplishments of the girls. He said that the challenges they’ve faced might have been tough for them to handle in the beginning but they proved that what they wanted was far greater than what they were facing and that made them winners in his eyes.
From getting a decent football pitch to practice in to getting the gear needed on the field to getting the parents’ approval for the girls’ to travel, Coach Julius said that it wasn’t even remotely easy for the girls to participate in the inaugural Chapa Dimba na Safaricom tournament. The benefits however pushed the girls to do more.
“The girls pocketed Kshs 500,000 cash reward even as they proceeded to the grand finale that was held on Sunday 24th March. They also won an additional cash reward of Kshs 100,000 and Mercy Njeri as the MVP also bagged Kshs 30,000 prize money during the Regionals. Mercy was also scouted and is now a member of Kayole Starlights, a team in the Kenya Premier League.
The girls gained tremendous amount of expertise as they traveled around the country and as much as we didn’t get the chance to go to London, the opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for them and we’re even more confident that we’ll win Season Two of Chapa Dimba na Safaricom!”
I also got to speak to Elizabeth Nafula and Mercy Njeri about their experience playing at Chapa Dimba.
What challenges have you faced and how have you been able to overcome them?
When we started, there weren’t many girls playing football in my home area. So even when we went for practice sessions at home, we would have to play with the boys.
Getting football shoes was also a struggle since they are so expensive. Our families would weigh between using the money for purchasing basic amenities and of course the money would go to feeding the family but when our families saw how much we loved the game, they sacrificed some money to get us a kit plus the boots we needed.
What was your experience playing in the Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom Tournament?
It was such a great opportunity to gain exposure for the skills. Especially when we won at the regionals and I (Mercy Njeri) won the title of MVP. It was so exciting. Additionally, I also secured a place with the Kayole Starlights which is in the Kenya Premier League. It feels good when your hard work is rewarded and you see yourself moving in the right direction in life.
What has been the impact of the tournament in your lives?
Our families were happy when we won the Regionals. As for the money that I – Mercy – received for winning the MVP title, I sent all of it to my parents.
Before we were not so stable financially but ever since I started playing, things are looking up. It might not be much but it is still more than we had before. At least our parents can afford to cater to our football needs without sacrificing other things. They were so shocked, they are now pushing us to play even more.
Do you want to pursue any other career other than playing football?
No. Football is everything to us. We’ve seen the benefits from playing at Chapa Dimba and we’re eternally grateful for the opportunity. Next time, we’re doing it bigger and better – we’re coming for that title!
Girls are often left behind when it comes to choosing football as a career path and many shy away from playing since they do not think they can go anywhere even if they are talented which is true. Safaricom has however changed people’s mindsets. So many girls are now more interested in playing football because they’ve seen how tournaments like Chapa Dimba have changed our lives. We hope that Safaricom will make this bigger and better so that they reach more girls in underprivileged areas.
Thank you Safaricom for the chance to show girls that they can be anything they want to be!