1.      The Mathare Valley and neighbouring slums in Nairobi are among the largest and poorest in Africa. Even in Kenya such slums are often regarded as lawless dens of squalor, misery and vice. The Mathare slums are certainly full of desperately poor people, some so desperate that they become thugs, drug-dealers and prostitutes. But that’s only part of reality in the slums. The larger reality is that over 70% are hard working mothers and their children. Those children didn’t choose to be poor. They were simply born poor and are just as innocent, intelligent and talented as children in richer communities and countries.

Excelling on the field

2.      Since 1987 MYSA has helped the Mathare youth to develop and test their talents. As they were often looked down upon by others, MYSA’s main aim and motto has been to “Give youth a sporting chance” both on and off the field. On the field, the youth have won many gold medals locally and even globally. For example, at the world’s oldest and largest youth tournament, the Norway Cup, MYSA is second to a team from Brazil in gold medals won. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, MYSA again won the FIFA Football for Hope championship and will defend their title during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

3.      Many MYSA alumni also excel on the field. Today, over a fifth of all players in the Kenyan Prem-ier League are MYSA alumni, including every player and coach on Mathare United FC (MUFC). In 2008 when Kenya rose a remarkable 52 places in the FIFA world rankings, the Team Manager, Head Coach and 11 of the 18 players were existing or former MYSA/MUFC players. Over 30 MUFC/MYSA alumni have also played or are still abroad, including striker Denis Oliech at Auxerre in France and midfielder Macdonald Mariga at Inter-Milan in Italy. On coaching, four MYSA alumni earned UEFA B Licenses and a fifth earned a UEFA A License.

Excelling off the field

4.      MYSA is far more than football. MYSA is a community development project which uses sport as the starting point. In 1987-88, MYSA pioneered the linking of youth sports with slum garbage and environmental cleanups to help reduce the high rates of disease, disability and deaths in the slums. As the teams earn three points for each cleanup project, today MYSA is still the only sports league in the world where the standings include games won and tied plusgarbage cleanup points.

5.      MYSA activities also expanded to include training peer counsellors on HIV/AIDS prevention, helping feed and free jailed kids, providing leadership awards to help over 500 young leaders annually stay in school for another year, organizing sports and other activities for disabled youth, using music, drama, dance and photography to highlight key social challenges and risks for youth, helping hundreds of child labourers to return to school, creating new slum libraries and study halls and other community development activities. For more information, see www.mysakenya.org.

Helping youth outside the Mathare slums

6.      MYSA doesn’t only help those in the Mathare slums. Over the last decade, MYSA has helped train and support youth in other poor communities in Kenya to start similar youth sport for develop-ment programmes like the Moving the Goalposts project for girls in Kilifi District and for youth in the huge Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya.  Outside Kenya, MYSA has provided training and assistance for projects in Botswana, southern Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. In cooperation with the Dutch KNVB, MYSA leaders and instructors have also conducted training courses in Cape Verde, India, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Viet Nam and Zambia.

Earning international recognition

7.      In addition to many gold medals won on the field, the Mathare youth have also earned international recognition and awards including the 1992 UNEP Global 500 Award for environmental innovation and achievement (Rio de Janeiro); the 1999 Global Help for Self-Help Prize by the Stromme Foundation (Oslo); the 2001 CAF/African Youth Development Award (Johannesburg); the 2003 Prince Claus Award for cultural achievement (Amsterdam); the 2004 World Sports Academy and Laureus Sport for Good Award (Lisbon); the 2008 Score4Africa Award for best and most innovative environmentally sustainable project (London); the 2010 Common Ground Award for achievements in community and peace building (Washington); and the 2011 Beyond Sports Award for global sports leadership (Cape Town).

Creating new heroes, role models and leaders

8.      But MYSA’s most important achievement by far is creating new heroes, role models and leaders to encourage and inspire youth in and outside the Mathare slums. MYSA alumni include medical doctors like Dr Richard Muthoka, Dr David Mutiso and Dr Moses Nyangila as well as Moses Mutuli who earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, is now a qualified actuary working for Deloitte in South Africa and is also the first MYSA alumni to join the MYSA Board of Trustees. Others alumni include Joel Achola, the former head of the MYSA Jailed Kids Project who is the youngest elected city councillor in Kenya, and Jack Oguda who scored the winning goal for Mathare United when it first won the national Moi Golden Cup competition in 1998, has a Diploma in Business Administration and is now the CEO of the Kenyan Premier League.

Owning the organization

9.      The main reason for MYSA’s success is that it is owned and run by the youth themselves. All of the over 60 elected MYSA leaders are volunteers elected from the grassroots upwards in a pragmatic governance structure with only three tiers (see Annex 1). All of the elected MYSA leaders are 21 years old or younger and over half of them are girls. In addition, the MYSA Board of Trustees provides expert advice, mentoring and fundraising assistance, Within the next five years it is intended that over half of the Trustees will, like Moses Mutuli, be high-achieving MYSA alumni.

Pioneering sport for development

10.    Since 1987 MYSA has been the global pioneers and innovator on linking self-help youth sports with community development. Inspired by MYSA’s example, similar projects started in the mid-1990s in many other countries. Today there are over 200 sport for development projects and organizations worldwide. Many are now linked through the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, FIFA Football for Hope, StreetFootballWorld and other global networks. However, MYSA still remains unique as the only one which is owned and managed by the youth themselves.