Why is play important?

You might see a lot of photos with our children playing, swimming, dancing and there is a really good reason for that! When we first started working with our boys, it was when they lived …

You might see a lot of photos with our children playing, swimming, dancing and there is a really good reason for that!

When we first started working with our boys, it was when they lived very tough and dangerous lives on the streets of town. I had always had a want to work with these boys as I believe, as I often say, that if we can change the ways that boys think and act, then we can change generations to come.

In the beginning everyone told me to walk away from the boys; they will never change; don’t try and connect to any boy over the age of 9 – they will hurt you, steal from you and you will be in great danger. Luckily I have never responded well to being told what I can and can’t do – so I set up a Football Project.

Why is play important

We started by taking 16 boys football training – not easy when no-one wants these ‘vermin’ at their fields. They saw them as ‘street boys’; I saw them as frightened children living a fear we could not even imagine. Sometimes they would come to the field with cuts and injuries where they had been beaten by older men and the police. It was heart breaking. I learnt more than I ever wanted to know. There were times I thought I would vomit listening to their daily lives. I fell in love with these dirty, rejected, gorgeous, funny and misunderstood young boys.

We fed them, arranged clean clothes and arranged showers for them. Small small stuff but the beginning of their lives changing.

They worked their magic on those we introduced them to as well. We had a clinic with Kenya Health in those early days and that amazing team saw beneath the dirt and illnesses to the wonderful boys that make our family smile – and scream on occasions!

At first some of the boys were very unruly and some of them hugely disrespectful, especially to me as a white woman. They saw me as a ‘do-gooder’ and they waited to take advantage as they saw fit. I thought I was connecting to them, in fact they were connected to me – they gave their trust a heartbeat at a time. Some connected quickly – others 7 years later are still getting there. I never stopped knowing they were amazing – even when their behaviour told you something different. I learnt to truly ‘look behind behaviour’ to the scared and damaged young men. I learnt so much and I am forever in their debt. I also learnt my best Swahili swear words during the two years we supported them in town! I didn’t know there were so many ways they could verbally abuse me, often with a smile on their faces!

But in time, slowly slowly, they relaxed. I watched them play football as much as I could; I saw relationships develop where there had been anger and hostility. I saw then relax with me and start to show their true selves. Football bonded them in a way nothing had before. They were becoming a family – albeit an unconventional one!

Fast forward 5 years and we are 3 years into our first boys house; 18 months into our second; and a few months into our last. We therapeutically parent 30 boys who I truly don’t know what would have happened to them if they had stayed in town. I know some would have died; been in prisons; starved; been more and more violent just to survive.

Football is still a huge part of their bonding and connection. Every week our boys and girls play games; go running; bike rides and for our boys swimming.

There are so many benefits

Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain. The blood delivers oxygen and glucose, which the brain needs for heightened alertness and mental focus. Because of this, exercise makes it easier for children to learn.

It is well known that stress damages children’s brains. Exercise reduces stress by balance of the body’s chemistry. Its effect is similar to taking anti-depressant medications.

It improves your mental wellbeing, alertness, relationships, leadership qualities – no wonder sports will live long in our houses – and it’s fun!

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