BY DAVID ONJILI
Linnet Achieng Okoth lost her parents to ailments at the tender age of 13. A first-born in a female family of three, the onus was on her to sustain the family.
For two gruelsome months in the sprawling Soweto area of Kibra slums, she managed, paying monthly rent of Sh800 and providing food for her siblings from the proceeds she got after hawking confectioneries. It was tough as she asked God many questions on why life could be this cruel.
As fate would have it, her aunt stepped in during the third month and a guardian angel sent a sponsor by the name Cate Fletcher who took her in her children’s home and educated her alongside the siblings at Hekima Primary School and Excel Girls High School in Kitengela. She later joined St Paul’s University between 2013-2018 to study Community Development; here she was the secretary for the student’s union before later getting elected, as the first female chairperson of the students’ union is the University’s history.
A moment of reflection on her life in Kibra and appreciation of her roots pricked Linnet to go back and do something however modest it would be. Having experienced it, she knew what it meant for a girl in the slums to lack sanitary pads, the choice a family has to make against basic needs like food.
Linnet also understood just how oppressive and fearful it is for a young girl in the slum to express herself in the eyes of exploitation. She wanted to be that voice for the voiceless.
In 2017 alongside Dino Haji, they set up the Kibra Angels Soccer Academy to use sports as a voice of change. Whereas many football academies charge children a registration fee, Kibra Angels Soccer Academy does not, well appreciating the economic background of the environment they operate in. Through football, they have been able to attract close to 120 children at the academy. Here both boys and girls are coached about the game and also offered various life skills.
From the academy, Linnet has been able to identify the needs of the children she interacts with. The football sessions are conducted every Saturday at Ayany Primary School grounds. As a professional caterer, Linnet and Dino dig into their pockets alongside the support of well-wishers to feed the children every Saturday after practice.
The football sessions offer a window of opportunity for mentorship and provision of sanitary towels for the girls. This was an activity to help them boost their self-esteem; Ayany Primary School, Olympics Primary School and Spargion Primary School kids under the program receive sanitary towels each month through Linnet.
A box of sanitary towels costs as much as Sh1500, not a small amount of money and Linnet is happy that several well-wishers chip in. She has a special word of gratitude to Wendy Zepf who has consistently and cheerfully donated to the cause. During the visits to provide the sanitary towels, she is usually accompanied by several female well-wishers who come and give career talk to the girls.
Alongside the volunteers, they also monitor the academic performance of the children under Kibra Angel Soccer Academy. This is done in liaison with the respective schoolteachers of the kids. The ultimate goal for this couple is to use the academy as an avenue to keep the children away from drugs, early sex and its exploitation from adults, help educate and prevent teenage pregnancies and above all give hope to the kids and remind them that their environment should not condemn them. They can be anything they want to be if they putt in the hard work and focus needed to achieve it.
To sustain Kibra Angels Soccer Academy and the mentorship program is not easy, and Linnet invites well-wishers to not just contribute in any manner they can but also pay the kids of Kibra Angels a visit.
Kibra Angels Soccer Academy cannot be mentioned without appreciating James Radido. Famously known as ‘Odu Cobra’ by his peers, a victim of the terrorist attack at the Dusit D2 Hotel early this year. Odu was not only a coach to the kids but also a man who dedicated his time and resources to see these kids have a smile on their faces.