After six years of traveling back and forth to Kenya my old friends and what I now call my Kenyan family are still there working and living their lives as best as they can. The sides of the streets are covered in trash, houses continue to be built and encroach closer and closer to each of the community soccer fields, goats and cows still pass through the LCFL matches, 85% of the population live without running water and about 20% of the population still live without electricity. Likoni is now a population of about 200,000 people. Although the world around them remains impoverished, the LCFL is strong and is still the only ongoing extracurricular activity provided for youth in Likoni.
“This is Kenya, kama kawa, kama kawaida,” a good friend, one of LCFL’s first coaches, said to me this week. I still remember him saying these words the first day we met, six years ago. This is Kenya, as usual - meaning nothing really ever changes.
The coach has always said it in a depressed tone. He has no hope that things will ever change for him. He has not been given an opportunity to be successful. He is given no foundation to succeed and no opportunity to better his life. However, he chooses to be the best he can be with the life he has been given. He has a heart of gold and gives back to the young boys and girls in the community through soccer. Each LCFL and volunteer soccer coach in Likoni has a heart of gold.
This year’s annual visit was a bit special because I had the pleasure to bring James Field with me to volunteer his time with the LCFL coaches and players. James owns and operates Soccer Field Academy, which provides year round elite training and development for serious players. Through Soccer Field Academy, James acts as a consultant for Columbus East FC and primarily oversees the (DPP) Development Player Program (the club’s highest level) on a daily basis. He is a former MLS Youth Academy and US Youth Development Academy Head Coach.
For five straight days I brought James out to a local field and about 50 players, and 5-7 coaches from the LCFL would join us for training and coaching education. As the week progressed, I watched James become more and more comfortable within his surroundings, and I witnessed the coaches and kids respond to his guidance with more and more eagerness and alertness.
At the end of each training session James would hand out three Soccer Field Academy (SFA) shirts to the players that performed at the highest level. Those three players were so proud to receive the honor and acknowledgement. I am not sure if James knows this, but he has made each of the LCFL players’, and now SFA players’, year. They will always remember being given an SFA shirt.
James’ passion for coaching and developing kids through soccer shined through this week and I thank him for his time and effort. I hope I can bring him back to the organization on an annual or bi-annual basis to help develop our coaches and players.
The last day we were in Likoni I watched James juggle a ball back and forth with another player before a match began. As I snapped photos I thought to myself this is what the LCFL is all about. No matter what is happening at home, how poor or rich you are, where you are from, what your religious or ethnic background is, or what the color of your skin is, a soccer ball and a field is all one needs to bring people and a community together – to hear laughter, to see smiling faces, and to bring a sense of comfort and belonging.
And a community youth soccer league that provides a structure for local youth soccer clubs like Likoni’s, allows for each and every one of the LCFL players to have a soccer club to play for and to have a game to practice and prepare for each week. I saw a group of players huddle up before a match like I have so many times over the years. I thought to myself, we haven’t done enough yet. There is still so much to do.
A coach walked up to me the first day I was back. He shook my hand, introduced himself as Hamisi, and said, “Thank you Ben. Thank you for the LCFL. I am now a coach for Change Youth Academy. I participated in the LCFL in 2011, and my younger brother grew up playing in the Under-12, Under-14 and Under-16 year-old league. He is now 17 and an unbelievable player and it is because of the LCFL.” Hamisi is one of the up and coming coaches in Likoni. He sees the benefit of the organization and the positive impact it has on the community.
I feel a bit old when I think about how long the LCFL has been in existence, and I am proud of the work we have done, but there is more to accomplish for this coming year. I appreciate your continued support over the past six years.
I ask you to match your 2016 donation and I thank you for each dollar that you give.
In 2017 we have four main Initiatives:
Game Day Feeding Program A child in Likoni will average one to two meals per day. Last season a local bank supported the LCFL by providing a Feeding Program during the Sunday Game Days. Every child that came to the field received a cup of porridge. This season the LCFL has decided to take it upon itself to continue the running of this program. The kids come to the field hungry, but ready to play, and we want to make sure they leave with a stomach full of porridge and a smile across their face after their match.
Gang Member Free Over the past two years there has been an increase in the number of youth gangs in Likoni - ages range from 13 – 20 years old. The LCFL has set up a Gang Member Free rule, which each club must strictly follow. Starting at the end of the current season, and beginning next season, coaches will speak to the players before and after every match about the importance of peace and security in the surrounding communities.
100% School Attendance The LCFL has the foundation and structure to now establish a 100% school attendance policy for each player. If players do not attend school they will not be allowed to play in LCFL matches. If a child is not attending school, the LCFL will work with the coaches and the player to get him back in school and back out on the soccer field.
Increase Visibility for Professional Soccer Development The LCFL is a well-established youth soccer organization in a population of 200,000 people. Top-level youth soccer players join the LCFL and the coaches work together to choose the top players. This year the LCFL will be sending an LCFL All-star team to Tanzania, so these young, talented players can be seen by professional soccer clubs. The LCFL is able to help increase the possibility of a Likoni player’s dream to one day play professionally.