December 2003 -

How does the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) work to improve the lives of the youth in the shanty towns. And why a Prince Claus prize?

Mathare is a shanty town that skirts Nairobi, Kenya. In 1987 Bob Munro started up a soccer club to give the underprivileged youth something to do in their spare time. Five years later, this Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) also started up girls' teams. Now the club has more than 14,000 members varying in age from nine to eighteen, making it the largest soccer club in Africa.

MYSA wants to use soccer to improve the living conditions and position of the youth in extremely poor neighbourhoods. Practicing sports with others and the serious input strengthens the children, both physically and mentally. Some of the teams are highly successful on the local and national level. The girls' team, for example, has already won multiple prizes in the international youth competition. This not only boosts self-confidence, but also gives the children a look at the rest of the world. The more talented players can also follow a programme to become a trainer.

The sports club also encourages its members to play an active part in society. Children's projects to help clean up their own neighbourhoods on Saturdays have been applauded. These projects initially utilised borrowed cleaning resources, but thanks to a donation from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the children now have two tractors and two dump trucks.

Education also plays a prominent role. Young people who remain committed to a team for two years are eligible for a grant to continue their education. MYSA has also launched large-scale information campaigns discussing the dangers of HIV.

In 1999 the soccer club started offering physical education classes at schools. Each week about one thousand school students receive lessons in sports. This project was financed by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya and by the Netherlands' Olympic Committee/Netherlands Sports Federation. A team of volunteers and professionals train teachers to give physical education lessons, purchase sports equipment for the schools, prepare sports fields, and coordinate after-school sports activities. In short: they are laying the foundation for sports education in the future.

MYSA is one of the winners of the Prince Claus Prizes 2003. The Vice-chairman of the Prince Claus Fund, Adriaan van der Staay, explains this choice: 'We have been looking forward to involving sports in our activities for quite some time now. We have often considered the many African participants in marathons. Here, sports is a way of exchanging culture. The people participate in one another's culture: in one another's marathons. There are also a variety of marathon schools in Africa. But to us another important aspect is the effect on the general development of a society as a whole. In the case of MYSA: MYSA is not only important as a sports group. It attracts groups of youths with relatively poor living conditions, who become inspired by their sports successes to mean something to their society. They are successful in music, in establishing library courses, and in anti-AIDS campaigns. Sports not only gives them more self-confidence, but also a feeling or responsibility towards their environment. We believe this is an extremely important example. Reason for us to award MYSA a prize. Our choice was confirmed after the fact when they were also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.'