September 21, 2020

With schools still shut in Nairobi, a boxing youth programme proves especially important

Although the pandemic forced the boxing gym to adapt its practices, the commitment to the community’s youth remains. Charles Macharia Mwangi, 28, is a leader of the youth program at Mathare North. He told the Observers team how the pandemic has transformed the gym.

Some kids and youth stopped coming. Also there was a time we had to close the gym. Now we are slowly returning. Covid changed everything, but we still manage to keep the kids busy. There is no school, so there is nowhere [else] to go, as this is also a slum.

In Kenya, the pandemic’s spread continues. In recent weeks, Kenya’s Ministry of Health recorded the highest numbers of positive cases of Covid-19 yet. The nation currently has 11,673 confirmed cases and 217 recorded deaths. Despite the increase, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, began to loosen lockdown restrictions last week.

“We are not planning to have more kids at the moment”

To protect its members, gym leadership at Mathare North Boxing made the decision to postpone most of the training sessions. For the programs that are allowed to operate at the gym, staff implemented social distancing and sanitary protocols, as well as restricting the number of users per day. Even without boxing training, the club offers a space for kids to hang out, Charles said.

The normal training is not fully back because of the number of the kids and youth who come to the facility. But if the number is small, sometimes, we may use the hall.

It is a community facility, so whether we train or not, kids still come here to play. Sometimes we are unable to control the number so we advise them to stay at home.

Currently, Charles estimates that there are about 35 children engaged in the boxing program. With the safety measures in place, the club is nearly at its limit.

We are not planning to have more kids at the moment. We are trying to find out how we can deal with the ones that were already at the gym. And how we can have safe measures to train at this time of the pandemic with the advice of the government and the boxing federation.

Mentors for the youngest

The  training restrictions require a lot of self motivation to keep fit. Everyone is expected to train on his or her own. Members organizie group runs and other outdoor activities. Kennedy Ochwila, 22, is a member of the boxing club who now mentors for the younger students.

Kennedy shared this photo of a Sunday group run with the Observers team. 

To his younger peers, Kennedy is a mentor. Even now when he is in college, Kennedy takes the time to return to the boxing club. As an older member, he offers guidance.

“Staying out of trouble, how to respect other people, avoiding drugs and bad gangs.”

The youth program also hosts community service projects, counseling, and peer mentoring, Kennedy told the Observers team.

We also have mentorship programs just for the gym. Here we are taught life outside boxing.

Even before the pandemic, the youth program was designed to offer kids an alternative to hanging out on the streets. For Charles, the importance of the gym goes beyond learning the art of boxing.

We also try as much as we can to educate the kids.

We don’t have specific programs we talk about because we do not have qualified teachers. At the gym we do things for ourselves. We only talk about life. And how to behave, how to live with others in our community. Staying out of trouble, how to respect other people, avoiding drugs and bad gangs.

So for me I think it’s not all about boxing, but we also learn a lot. Boxing is part of the game.

Charles shared this photo of a young student boxing with a coach.

Article by Sophie Stuber (@sophiestube)