19 July 2019

For Pauline (17), growing up in the Kiandutu slum on the outskirts of Nairobi as an orphan, life has offered her greater challenges than opportunities. At Festival 19, we spoke to her and fellow player Edwin (16), also from Kiandutu and representing Kenyan organisation Angaza. In the latest instalment of our pitch-side interviews, Pauline and Edwin tell us about the importance of encouragement and appreciation found in football.


On a scale from one to ten, where would you say that your home community places in terms of the equal treatment of men and women?


Pauline: I’m saying five. In Kenya, we women are not treated as equal to men. Sometimes, when women want to organise a game of football, for example, the boys and men are regarded as being in a higher class. Their needs seem to be prioritised in comparison to the women’s, they are upgraded and regarded as being more important. We depend mostly upon ourselves and that’s a real challenge for us. 


Where is it most obvious?


Pauline: In opportunities. We are not given the same opportunities as men to express ourselves, which is why being here feels different. You look around and all you can see is empowered women.


Edwin: I would say six because it’s true what Pauline says, men have less fear than women. Not all women but many are afraid to play football and that’s not the case for us boys. I know girls who are afraid to play because they are scared they will get injured. They feel so incapable of playing and therefore assume they will get hurt.


Do you think it’s possible to make women and girls believe that they won’t get injured and that they can play?


Edwin: Yes, of course. Simply by encouraging them to have the freedom to do what the boys are able to do.


Pauline: Edwin is right. However, it’s not so easy at home. Here, the girls are given the game to play and given the opportunity to learn and see that they can do better within the context of playing with boys. We want to do better, and we can do better, even better than men (laughs), we just need a chance.


It seems like what you’ve seen here in Lyon has had a big impact on both of you, yet what impact do you two wish to leave on others at Festival 19? How do you want your fellow players to remember their time with you?


Pauline: We live in one of the slums of Nairobi, it’s called Kiandutu in Thika. I live with my grandmother because I’m an orphan but that can’t stop me from playing football. If you give me the opportunity, I will show you I can do much better. As an orphan I spend my time encouraging others because it’s easy for us to see ourselves in a less fortunate way.


Why is football a good medium for encouraging this empowerment?


Pauline: Football is a clear example of effort. It is a visible sign that people are trying to do something that can be appreciated, no matter who you are. At home, that’s what I tell my younger brother. I want him to feel that appreciation, one we often miss as orphans that football can give him. Without football, I wouldn’t be here. Purely by playing, regardless of whether I’m better than the next person or not, it made me think ‘yes, I can play and maybe I can do something amazing’. My school teacher saw me playing, he believed in me and continues to show me that support.


Edwin: Pauline already told you that we live in a slum and that is true, but I want people to know that this should not mean that those in the city are better than us. I know many people from my slum who play better than those in better conditions in the cities. I can’t say our home is the best place to live but as long as the ball is still round in the slum I know I can be as good as anyone, anywhere.


The sentiment is one I also share and I feel it has been on display in abundance here. Are there any other stand-out moments so far for you both?


Pauline: Playing with other people, from other countries. There were so many occasions where there was a real language barrier, and when I say barrier, I mean it. But we have tried to communicate, because if we can understand each other on the pitch we can try away from it. I have friends now from France and the United States.


Edwin: There are so many! I can say that this is my first time to ever play on artificial turf. I’m used to playing on soil back home, you know this kind of red dirt. I’ve loved the food here too, you can eat what you want and even serve yourself, for me the meat has been amazing, especially the chicken (laughs). But also, like Pauline said, the interaction with people from other countries. Never would I have thought of having friends from Germany, Brazil or South Africa.


Speaking of the unimaginable, that leads us to our final two questions. Firstly, I would like to know your crazy idea to make the world a better place?


Pauline: I want everybody in this world on the street to have a place to live. I want people to be accommodated, have a place where they can stay, be helped, be educated and for orphans to be given the chance to believe they are more than just orphans. I have my grandmother telling me ‘your life is in your hands, you’re the one holding it’, giving me the kind of belief people lack.


Edwin: I would also help the poor and those in need. I would build schools and houses to create the mentality that they can improve their lives. I also know many people with disabilities who consider themselves of less worth than the rest of us and we have to help them; we are supposed to help them. They are people too, like us, and we must give them the encouragement to do something more miraculous than what we can.


Who would be in your jointly selected five-a-side team composed of people needed to help you change the world?


Pauline: Let’s start with a footballer that I love and someone from this very country: Paul Pogba. To me, he seems kind and I love his style of play. His attitude to playing is one we as people should adopt more in life and his willingness to help good causes is amazing.


Edwin: Kylian Mbappé. He is the definition of hard-working. When you see him on the field he gives everything.


Pauline: Victor Wanyama, because as a Kenyan footballer playing in the Premier League, we love him so much. It important to Kenya and to me that we have someone flying our flag and making us proud.


Edwin: It’s true we love him because he brings his skills and what he has learnt back to Kenya. My next choice is a Kenyan gospel singer called Bahati. He has a programme that helps change the lives of people in need.

Ok, that’s four. You both have just one more place. Who is it going to be?


Pauline: My grandmother! Because I’m so proud of her.


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