NAIROBI - A Kenyan jump rope team is hoping to become world champs - after winning numerous competitions. The team members are all from the Nairobi slum of Kibera and are between the ages of 8 and 18; jumping rope has helped them avoid negative peer pressure.
Eighteen-year-old Wycliffe Otieno prepares for his daily jump rope practice. The tools of his trade; a pair of shoes, a water bottle and second change of clothes. Otieno took up the sport four years ago and is part of the Carolina For Kibera jump rope initiative dubbed the ‘CFK Sprinters’.
Jump rope, not just for girls
He has been practicing four times a week for up to two hours a day. And that hard work has paid off. In June, the CFK Sprinters represented Kenya and came in third out of 16 countries at the 2014 World Jump Pope Competition that was held in the U.S. state of Florida.
But Otieno says he nearly did not pursue the sport for the wrong reasons. “After class I’d find people practicing jump rope and my interest was piqued. But I thought it was a game for only girls, only girls jumped rope. Later I saw boys practicing but they weren’t that keen since they too viewed jump rope as a sport for girls. I saw an opportunity to learn and improve my skills and I decided to take it up seriously,” he explains.
CFK Sprinters - team
Carolina For Kibera -- an international NGO -- started the Jump Rope Initiative in 2010 gearing it toward children between 8 and 18 years of age living in Nairobi’s informal settlement. So far the CFK Sprinters has around 100 children enrolled in the program. They provide training, a jump rope and a pair of shoes, which cost about $10 -- too much for most Kibera families to afford.
Fifteen-year-old Christine Ondeko, among the first to join the jump rope club four years ago, says she wishes there were more support for her sport, which many people just view as a playground activity.
“Parents oppose because they don’t think it's girl stuff, like they think it’s time wasting, it can’t help in anything. On the ground we face challenges -- like here rocks, some get injured because they don’t have shoes, lack of shorts for girls mostly and tights and shirts because you can’t train with the same clothes," she says, "You can’t train with the same clothes you train with and go with them home.”
Since 2001, Carolina For Kibera has been helping the local young people through various initiatives -- including the Tabitha Medical Clinic -- which treats the CFK Sprinters at no cost when they get training injuries.
David Okoth, one of the three coaches, takes pride in not only conditioning the CFK Sprinters but giving them a sense of self-worth through mentorship.
“Generally jump rope it brings the youth around Kibera together for those who cannot take part in any other sport like football, running. They can take part in jump rope," he notes. "And despite them taking part in jump rope we still impact them with the life skills information such as HIV, teenage pregnancies and the bad companies.”
This dedication has seen the team win three international championships while helping young people feel safe and valued.
As they hone their skills, the CFK Sprinters look forward to next year’s World Youth Championships in France and, maybe, just maybe this time they’ll take first place.