What you need to know:
- Also, on topics such as HIV prevention and early pregnancies. By doing so, we can ensure that women footballers are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed both on and off the field.
- She adds: " The federation (FKF) should work to secure league sponsors who can provide financial support for players. This will help players sustain themselves without having to rely on others for support. By investing in the league, sponsors can help to create a more sustainable and successful environment for women's football."
It is by sheer luck that 18-year-old Joyce Wambui still dreams of becoming a football star.
After giving birth to a bouncing baby girl in May, the Kayole Starlets “B” defender gave up on her ambitions to play for the Kenya national women’ football team, Harambee Starlets and top clubs abroad.
With no one to take care of her child during the team’s activities or money to pay for daycare services, she was left with no option but to agonizingly quit football.
But in September, lady luck smiled on her when the team’s coach Job Ilayesa assured her of his full support in continuing with her football journey.
“I had given up (on playing football again) because apart from being out for a long time, I had a child who needed my full attention. At home there was no one I could leave her with,” says Wambui, who dropped out of school in form three due to lack of school fees.
The former Soweto Starlets player lives with her mother and sister in a rented house at Tushauriane area in Komarock estate, Nairobi.
But they are rarely at home during the day, as they leave very early in the morning to eke out a living from menial jobs.
In convincing the teenage mother to resume playing football, Ilayesa says they came up with a plan that ensured safety and proper care of her five-month-old daughter during the team’s activities.
When she is on the pitch training or playing, one of the players in the senior team, Kayole Starlets “A” looks after the child either at the stadium or the team’s club house, which is located just a stone throw away from their home ground, Kayole Calvary Grounds in Komarock.
Wambui’s teammates and the club officials also ensure the child’s comfort during the team’s activities by chipping in financially.
At half-time, the promising defender breastfeeds the baby, while also listening to the coach’s pep talk.
“They (her team mates and officials) always support me by contributing the little money they have, so that when I show up for training or matches with the child, I have her pampers and milk,” she says.
In not giving up on her ambition to be a top footballer due to the tough balancing act between football and motherhood, Wambui also hopes to in future, inspire her daughter to be resilient.
Ilayesa says he is impressed with the defender’s hard work and focus when on the pitch, despite having a baby to look after.
Since she is one of the team’s dependable players, they have put in place a plan for her and her baby to travel with the team for away matches when the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Nairobi Regional Zone “A” begins.
“We will go with her and the child. We must prepare well and ensure that we have someone who will look for her when she is playing,” says the coach.
Just like Wambui, four Mathare United Women’s team footballers namely; Brenda Onyango, Catherine Erumbi, Judy Kwamboka and Dora Achieng’ count themselves lucky to be continuing with their football careers, despite the myriad of challenges they face in juggling between sports and motherhood.
And they all owe it to the team’s coach Ann Aluoch.
Onyango, also a defender, says that when she returned to her club in December last year, after staying out of football for close to a year taking care of her son, she was rarely selected for matches.
Still burning with a desire to continue playing, she reached out to Aluoch, who gladly took her back to Mathare.
“It’s like the coach (of her former club) believed that players who have given birth have little to offer on the pitch because unlike before, I was always on the bench. Because I believed that I still had the potential to offer a lot, I talked to Aluoch and she accepted my return to Mathare,” says the 25-year-old player, who was orphaned in 2018.
She dropped out of school in form three due to lack of school fees.
Sometimes, she leaves her one-year-old son under the care of a neigbour or at a daycare but whenever she shows up with him for matches, he is taken care of by her teammates on the bench.
“Once I step on the pitch, I’m never bothered by his cries. To keep him calm, I carry for him porridge or yoghurt and breastfeed him before the match’s kick-off and at halftime,” say the defender, who also makes a living by selling sportswear.
But she reveals that due to the dusty state of Kenyan stadiums, her son is often sneezing and sometimes suffer from diarrhea.
Midfielder Achieng’, 23, offers that when she started attending Mathare United’s training and matches with her two-year-old daughter, she was always perturbed by her incessant cries.
Though the cries have since subsided, she feels “guilty” for exposing her child to extreme weather conditions when attending the early morning training. “It is very tough, especially waking up early with her for training,” says Achieng’, adding that it is because of her passion in football that she has accepted to endure all the challenges.
When she is on the pitch, her daughter is taken care of by the team’s physiotherapist or she roams around the touchline area but under the watch of her team mates. She lives alone at Kenyatta Road in Thika and makes a living by selling silver cyprinid (omena).
In supporting the youth mothers in her team to continue pursuing their football dreams, Aluoch, a former Harambee Starlets player and assistant coach, says she is returning the favour.
Having given birth at the young age of 16, when she was playing for Old is Gold FC in Nairobi, she says that were it not for the support that she received from her then coach and teammates, she would have given up on football.
Interestingly, that baby is now the Rising Starlets captain Jane Hato.
“I’m giving them the chance (to continue chasing their football dreams) because I also went through what they are undergoing now,” says the CAF B licensed coach nicknamed “Aunty”.
“My coach always carried me and my child for the away matches…My daughter also grew so dusty but today, she is the national team (Rising Starlets) captain.”
Thanks to Aluoch’s tremendous rise to coaching role despite giving birth at a young age, midfielder Erumbi, 22, says she is her idol.
She gave birth to her daughter at 18 years and has endured a lot of pressure from her husband to quit football.
“He is not ready to support my football career in any way. He wants me to quit because he sees it as a waste of time and money since we don’t earn salary in football,” says Erumbi, who hopes to ply her trade abroad like her friend and former team mate Judith 'Crouch' Atieno.
Atieno, 22, who plays for Rwanda Women Premier League side Rayon Sports gave birth at the age of 20, while turning out for Mathare.
Last season, she scored a massive 43 goals and provided 21 assists to help Rayon gain promotion to Rwanda’s top flight league from Rwanda Women Division One League.
“I want to make a name for myself in Rwanda and my baby inspires me to keep pushing each day. As a young mother, I firmly believe that I can fulfill my responsibilities as a parent while also excelling in my personal pursuits, particularly on the sports field," says Atieno.
When playing or training at their home ground, Mathare Youth Sports Association Academy along Kangundo road, Erumbi says she is never worried about the safety of her daughter, since even the security officers at the facilities knows her thus cannot allow any stranger to leave the place with her daughter.
During their away matches, she lives with her daughter at a daycare, where her father, upon return from work in the evening picks her. Aluoch says that though a difficult task, the players learn to be responsible by showing up for training and matches with their babies.
Apart from the half-time break, she allows the young mothers in her team to attend to their babies during water breaks. Every month, the team in partnership with Palms Bet also organizes mentorship sessions for them.
“I applaud them very much, they have not stopped playing because they have babies,” says the coach.
She castigates teams that despise their players after they have given birth saying: “Pregnancy is a normal and natural occurrence, and not a setback. By sidelining pregnant footballers, African teams are sending a message that women's bodies are not capable of participating in sports while carrying a child. Embracing the presence of pregnant players on the field would send a powerful message about the value of women's contributions in sports and society as a whole.”
As a way to take care of the welfare of the players and their babies, she says: “If we support women in football, I think these challenges will be over. If this girl plays and is paid well, gets an allowance, has National Hospital Insurance Fund cover and saves with National Security Social Fund, NSSF, I think this is a little challenge.”
On her part, Kayole Starlets head coach and former national team player Mary Adhiambo said: “The government can empower them with technical skills and knowledge. This training can include short courses that can help them get jobs.
Also, on topics such as HIV prevention and early pregnancies. By doing so, we can ensure that women footballers are equipped with the necessary skills to succeed both on and off the field.
She adds: " The federation (FKF) should work to secure league sponsors who can provide financial support for players. This will help players sustain themselves without having to rely on others for support. By investing in the league, sponsors can help to create a more sustainable and successful environment for women's football."