by Kingsley iweka
The typical Lagosian hears Ajegunle and immediately images of a filthy and rowdy environment comes to mind.
But I want to tell you another story, a different story. A story about kids and football; a story about faith and hope. One that reflects the unfolding image of the people and community of Ajegunle in Lagos State, Nigeria.
‘Maracana stadium’ is located at the heart of Ajegunle, and in many ways it is the heartbeat of the community. This ‘stadium’ is merely a large piece of land with not one strand of grass on the surface of the ground. Not quite like the Sahara Dessert, but the dry sand and ever-blowing wind there was sufficient to nurture the change that is now brewing in the community.
Mac AIDS Fund Holiday Camp
Every parent knows that one of hardest things to do is get their kids to wake up early, especially when it is the holiday period and the kids don’t have to go to school. But every weekday for 4 weeks, by 8:30am, Mary, Mukaila, Friday and over 500 other kids in Ajegunle rushed to the Maracana stadium to be part of the MAC AIDS Funded Skillz Naija Football Holiday Camp organized by Grassroot Soccer Nigeria.
The Skillz Naija Football Holiday Camp program provided a safe space for children, boys and girls to come play football, have fun and learn healthy habits and important life skills during the holiday period.
The passion and zeal shown by the kids made me feel like I was in the early days of a new country. Even when we emphasized that the program was for kids between the ages of 11-15 years, 9 year old Mukaila insisted and sneaked into the circles to be part of the program. After a while he would get spotted and would be made to leave, only to return a while later and sneak in again. His persistence eventually paid off and he was permitted to continue for most of the age-appropriate sessions. Eventually he was awarded the ‘Most Outstanding Participant’ for his Camp due to his dedication and passion participating.
Mary is eleven years old and loves to play football, but she hardly gets a chance to play. The boys in Ajegunle would not let her play with them, and the other girls are just not interested. The Skillz Naija Football Holiday Camp gave her a platform to prove her love for football and succeeded in astonishing everyone when she helped her Country Team get to the finals of the Football Tournament organized in the Camp, scoring goals all the way. Even though her team didn’t win the tournament eventually, Mary was awarded the ‘Most Valuable Player’ for the tournament.
The New Wind
When the kids kept coming back to the Moracana stadium every day of the Skillz Naija Football Holiday Camp in Ajegunle, it became clear that a new wind had blown in the area. The football had hooked them and prepared their mind to learn life skills and take a stand to be responsible for themselves and people around them, being conscious of the devastating effect of malaria and HIV, and join the fight against these diseases.
Equipped with the lessons and practices from the Camp, engraved in their hearts and minds through football, these kids in Ajegunle have gone back to their families and their community with a new mindset. I would like to think we have started a chain of game-changers who will provoke new and positive attitudes that will transform Ajegunle to a malaria and HIV free zone.
Altogether, the Skillz Naija Football Holiday Camp program graduated nearly 6,000 kids throughout the camps across Lagos State, of which the Ajegunle camp graduated nearly 500 children altogether.