Vanessa Wanjera packs a punch. The 14-year-old Kenyan girl took up boxing two years ago, but she has already big dreams to achieve.
“I want to be a champion, instead of staying in the slums,” Wanjera explains.
Wanjera is one of a group of children who train at the Mathare North Boxing Club in Nairobi, where the head coach Bernard Muiruri hopes that the programme will help keep kids to come out of trouble.
While government restrictions are in place on public gatherings and people’s movement to curb the spread of the pandemic, the gym has strict measures in place to conform to social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
The preventive measures limit the number of visitors allowed on the premises, it’s cleaned three times a day and gives out hand sanitizers to people who do not bring it.
“We have adhered to all COVID-19 regulations set by the government,” Muiruri explains. “The training sessions keep the children busy, ensuring they don’t engage in evils found in the slums. Staying fit is also a way to fight the virus.”
Since the club opened its doors in 1985, it has trained several professional boxers and Kenyan champions, including John Kimani, the assistant coach.
“Here at Mathare North Boxing Club, we don’t charge. What we do is give back to the community,” Kimani claims.
Andrew Odhiambo, 18, embodies that spirit of the initiative. He started boxing since he was 8 years old, and now wants to share what he has learned with other young people in his community.
“I want to help my peers,” claims Odhiambo. “I train because I want to be somebody. I want to make Mathare proud of me.”
More children in the neighbourhood than usual started training at the gym, which has now become a crucial outlet for local kids forced to stay at home, as schools remain closed due to the current pandemic.
And boxing is not the only lesson they learn.
“We tell them there is life outside boxing,” points out Kimani. “They don’t just come here for boxing… we give them lessons for life.”