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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Top Kenyan Sports Personalities who Grew up in Slums

  • UK Athlete Roger Bannister once said that Sports, like all of life, is about taking chances. 

    This is evident in the lives of many young sports personalities whose fortunes have turned around due to their unbridled love for the game.

    Be it football, boxing, cricket, these sports stars have embodied the never give up mentality and rose from the slums in order to chart their own path and become a success- inspiring the next generation. 

    kenyagist.com examines some these sports personalities, who knocked off challenges to become who they are today.

    Kenyan midfielder Johana Omolo during a past match in 2017

    Johana Omolo 

    Johana Omolo, an elite Kenyan soccer player, is no stranger to hardship as he grew up in Dandora slums- which was at the time controlled by gangs who caused chaos on the streets. 

    Omolo’s parents struggled to make ends meet as his mother was a hairdresser and his father, a retired brigade officer. This, however, did not deter Omolo who resorted to football as his safe haven.

    Organising low-key tournaments for children at the slum, it became the norm for the young talents escaping a life of felony. 

    At the age of 13, he got a chance to go for Mathare Youth Sports Association trials. Omolo seized the opportunity and has since ended up playing in major tournaments in Norway, Belgium and currently in Turkey where he plays for Kocaelispor and bags a whopping Ksh4 million a month salary. 

    Kenyan defender Eric Ouma (left) playing against Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during a past AFCON match.
    Kenyan defender Eric Ouma (left) playing against Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah during a past AFCON match.

    Eric Ouma Otieno

    Eric Ouma Otieno has become synonymous with upcoming talents playing professional soccer in Europe. Ouma, better known as Marcelo in the sports circles, spent 19 years of his life in Kibera slums. 

    However, Ouma would often play barefoot on the rocky surfaces as a means of passing time. This would one day earn him a-four-year scholarship at Kakamega High School after a football scout, Benjamin Kipruto, recognised his talent. 

    Showing off his skills at Kakaemga High, Ouma was called up to play for Kenya Premier League giants Gor Mahia. Since then, he has played for teams across America and Europe such as Kolkheti Poti in Georgia, Swedish club Vasalund and AIK.

    Kenya’s Nick Okoth after booking a slot in the Tokyo Olympics.
    Kenya’s Nick Okoth after booking a slot in the Tokyo Olympics.
    The Standard

    Nick Okoth

    Okoth is a renowned boxer having clinched medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi as well as the African Games in Congo. 

    However, his story dates back to Mathare slums where he spent most of his career. At first, Okoth fell in love with football dazzling his peers with his dribbling skills. His brother, Absalom Okoth, advised him to trade in his boots for a pair of gloves- advice which he listened to.

    During a past interview, he noted that he has never regretted the decision to become a boxer- having featured at the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2020 Tokyo Games. 

    Retired professional boxer John Gicharu poses for a photo.
    Retired professional boxer John Gicharu poses for a photo.

    John Gicharu

    Retired professional boxer John Gicharu has not been shy of detailing how life was ruthless and unforgiving at Korogocho slums. Growing up in a family of 10, the family found it hard to make ends meet as it was survival for the fittest. At the time, Gicharu dropped out of school and ran away from home- deciding to chart his own path.

    He delved into garbage collection at the infamous Dandora dump site before carving a liking to the sport of boxing. A former boxer, Moses Kinyua, encouraged Gicharu to take up the sport which saw him join the Bangladesh Boxing Club in Kariobangi. By the age of 21 years, he began taking care of his siblings after the demise of his parents. He soon turned pro in 2005, going toe to toe with the who’s who in industry. 

    After retiring from professional boxing, he has had a record of 15 wins, ten losses and two draws. 

     Former Kenya wicket-keeper, David Obuya (R) talks to young players at the Obuya Cricket Academy
    Former Kenya wicket-keeper, David Obuya (R) talks to young players at the Obuya Cricket Academy

    David Obuya and his two brothers

    Kennedy Otieno, David and Collins Obuya rose to the global scene after they reached to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

    This put Kenya on the map in a sport that was relatively new in the country. The slum-dwelling boys came back to Kenya with an aim of building up the sport from the ground up.

    This led to the formation of Obuya Cricket Academy (OCA) in Lavington, Nairobi, in order to offer training to the young talents in the streets.

    Otieno is currently the head coach and trains numerous students ranging from the age of five to 19 years who are looking to become the next stars in the sport. 


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