What you need to know:
- An engineering graduate from JKUAT, Baraza, who was among the players who formed Kabras Sugar in 2013, started off as management trainee in 2014 rising to a supervisory role.
- Sikuta, who majored in finance, came to West Kenya Sugar Company (Kabras Sugar) as financial advisor before he went into full professional rugby with Kenya Sevens teams
- The company’s chief executive, Tejveer Rai, is an ardent sportsman himself and a motorsport enthusiast who is a regular feature in the Kenya National Rally Championship series
It’s a beautiful sunny Thursday morning, and the mood is ecstatic.
The sound of the chirping birds crowns the serene setting dubbed “the forest.”
It’s a great feeling as Kabras Sugar Rugby Club players are getting a feel of their new playing and training kits at their Kakamega Showground backyard.
They are preparing for the season-opening Sisimka Cup before the start of the Kenya Cup rugby league that was resuming after 10 months of inactivity owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Never mind Kabras Sugar would dispose of Kenya Harlequin 29-10 to lift the Sisimka Cup on February 20 at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Former Kenya Simbas scrum-half Edwin Achayo is busy setting up press interviews and securing vantage points for the photojournalists to click the good moments away.
It’s the first public training session in 10 months for the 2016 Kenya Cup champions after the government stopped all sporting activities as the world battled to stop the spread of Covid-19 disease.
Achayo, a graduate of information science from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), joined Kabras in 2015 from Kenya Harlequin as player-cum-coach.
But at the same time, he was absorbed at West Kenya Sugar Company as management trainee before scaling to his current position where he manages the company’s public relations office.
A quick glance around and one will notice the absence of centre Nick Baraza, who is missing from the kit presentation.
Baraza, who is among Kabras Sugar Rugby Club pioneering players, is held up at the sugar factory.
An engineering graduate from JKUAT, Baraza, who was among the players who formed Kabras Sugar in 2013, started off as management trainee in 2014 rising to a supervisory role.
He would later become deputy engineer and eventually ascend to his current status.
Then comes the new team captain, Dan Sikuta, the Bachelor of Commerce graduate from the University of Nairobi who joined Kabras Sugar from Mwamba.
Sikuta, who majored in finance, came to West Kenya Sugar Company (Kabras Sugar) as financial advisor before he went into full professional rugby with Kenya Sevens teams.
Other notable players are Kevin Keegan, a Biotechnology graduate from the University of Nairobi, and civil engineer Geoffrey Meso.
Both are based at the processing house and civil departments at West Kenya Sugar Company.
Other than giving 12 former and current players a chance to play for them, the company has also offered them career opportunities within the sugar factory.
And all does not end on the field and in the office as the company has held a long-term relationship with these players.
It has offered some educational scholarships to pursue courses in various institutions of higher learning.
Those currently being sponsored for education both at high school and college level by the company are 30 in number.
Nine of them are at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), seven at Sigalagala National Polytechnic while three have been sponsored at University of Nairobi and JKUAT.
“There is a counsel that those under the educational support take up courses that can make them easily absorbed into the company,” says Kabras Sugar Rugby Club chairman Philip Jalang’o. “That is why any young player joining Kabras Sugar Rugby Club from high school must agree to undertake a course.”
Jalang’o says West Kenya Sugar Company has spent over Sh8 million since the launch of the educational scholarships in 2014.
The company’s chief executive, Tejveer Rai, is an ardent sportsman himself and a motorsport enthusiast who is a regular feature in the Kenya National Rally Championship series.
Sugar is their business and having some of the players engage in farming is a noble idea hence a programme to empower the players through inducting them into farming, an initiative dubbed “Cheza Na Acre” that is already running.
In the programme, the company provides a player with financial support to enable him start farming of the sugarcane and supply them also with some farm input.
At least 10 players have already been inducted into the programme and are acting as trailblazers for those that will follow.
For West Kenya Sugar Company, there will be life after their playing career.
And just like they enjoy their favourite sport when active, that trend should continue after they hang their boots.
“We have started a campaign where senior players pick one or two from the area and groom them into the system right from high school or even primary school level,” says Achayo, who is also the deputy head coach.
“We have scholarships hence it will be mandatory for any high school leaver hoping to play for us to pick a course of his choice.”
“I am part of Kabras Sugar success. The company has helped me in my growth as a player and work profession,” says former international Baraza, who has three acres of sugarcane farm in Kabras area. “They took me straight from campus and I am at the high end of my profession.”
Jalang’o notes that West Kenya Sugar Company has remained steadfast in sponsoring and promoting sports in Kenya.
This is demonstrated through the assistance given to the Kabras Sugar Rugby Club over time, and more evidently during this Covid-19 period.
“The company ensured the players and their families remained safe and healthy.
“This has been through taking them through the testing exercise and supplying them with the necessary face masks, sanitisers and running water,” says Jalang’o.
The players were provided a conducive training environment for optimised growth and development.
“This extended to dietary and fitness provisions. Furthermore, supported with monthly allowances to help them meet their upkeep,” explains Jalang’o.
To continue in the demonstration of belief in the team, the company has just unveiled a new play kit for them.
“The new look is both refreshing and stimulating; and resonates well with the company’s brand leadership. The high quality of the game is also in line with the company's product,” says Jalang’o.
Jalang'o says their plans to build a full-fledged rugby academy in Bungoma are back on course after Covid-19 delayed their plans.
On their part, the players also reciprocate in different ways in appreciating the sponsor’s gesture. They have thus volunteered in many of the company’s CSR programmes. For instance, they distributed food during flooding in Ahero last year.
When former Zimbabwean international Mzingaye Nyathi took over Kabras Sugar Rugby Club in October last year, he was impressed with Kabras Sugar players’ well-conditioning.
“One wouldn’t think they have been on a break after Covid-19 outbreak. This is a good sign of better things to come.
"A dedicated and disciplined team will always deliver,” says Nyathi, who has already secured three wins on the road for Kabras Sugar.
Besides Sisimka Cup, they started their Kenya Cup rugby league campaign strongly, beating neighbours MMUST 56-0 before taming Strathmore Leos 35-9.
Last weekend, they thrashed hosts Kenya Harlequin 43-5 at the RFUEA ground. They now top the league with 15 points from the three wins.