Boxing for a Voice

The Kiberia Olympic Boxing Club reshapes its slum and country

By Bob Miller

In April 2010, United States Ambassador Michael Ranneberger summoned the Kenyan youth to seize active roles during their nation’s reformation. After interactions around the country, the envoy said he sensed “a sea change of attitude” among young people. “[It was] a tidal wave below the surface. The youth have woken up,” said Ranneberger.

Less than three years earlier, post-election violence surrounding the rigged presidential elections killed 1,200 and displaced 600,000. Yet over the last two years, various grassroots initiatives led by youth have improved the quality of life for those in the poorest of conditions.

Termed “youth groups” on the streets, these initiatives could represent the future of long-term socioeconomic development in Kenya and its neighboring countries. Members of the Usafi Youth Group in Kibera dig pit latrines to remove waste mounds in the slums, covering the newly fertilized earth with sustainable agriculture projects.

Other groups are building community bathhouses in the most impoverished areas and organizing meetings to educate the community on the risks associated with HIV and AIDS.

Within the progressive youth culture is the Kibera Olympic Boxing Club, a group of low-income adolescents from the slums who box to stay off the streets. The youth are a microcosm of the greater movement toward reform and a generation fighting for a voice.

Is an effort to keep youth off the street and away from violence, athletic groups led by volunteer coaches have begun to form in the slums of Nairobi. In a community gym, youth await the announcement of opponents as a boxing ring is assembled. Without a sponsor, equipment and supplies for Kibera Olympic Boxing Team are in short supply. The little equipment they have is passed between teammates before each bout.

In Jericho, a district on the outskirts of Nairobi, youth await the announcement of opponents as the ring is assembled.

An athlete is rubbed down before entering the ring.

Volunteer coach Hassan Abdul Kassalini prepares his team for the bout. A former boxer himself, Kasalini believes "every generation has an obligation. We have an obligation for the other generations. We want to make a good name for ourselves,” he said. “We don’t want people to think, Kibera—violence, violence, violence—all the time.”

In the past Kibera Slum has succeded in sending several boxers on to win national and international tournaments.

A boxer with the Kibera Olympic Boxing Club dodges a jab in a weekend bout outside Nairobi, Kenya.

The bout comes to a close.