2006 : Kibera Revolution

Aug 7, 2023, 4:58:19 PM

Veronica Osogo introduces Kenyan kids to tennis

No one knows what a tennis court looks like here. There is no room and no money for tennis courts in Kibera. Over a million people are packed in this 740-acre Nairobi slum –the biggest in Kenya and all western Africa. There is almost no access to clean water or food. In 2006, Veronica Osogo came to Kenya to teach tennis to local kids; she was outraged by the situation. “It was hard to see. It didn’t look like a place where people should be living,” she said in 2015 on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, actress Amy Poehler’s organisation’s website which promotes young talents. “Kids would get sick because there was no drainage system, and they were living in shanties. But I brought over a few rackets, and the kids loved it. A few were really talented, and I saw that, for them, tennis could be more than just a game.” A professional tennis player and winner of several doubles tournaments in Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Sudan, and Ethiopia, she created her own foundation, Zion Zone, a few months later. It started off with almost nothing; she used a string by way of a net on makeshift courts, and people were sceptical. “We had just a few rackets and a few balls,” she said in 2021 in a video for the Segal Family Foundation, which advocates the strength of grassroot team power. “No one believed it could lead to something concrete.” But this economics graduate did not give up and looked for all kinds of sponsors. “Tennis is a great mobilizer. A lot of these kids played soccer, but it’s played in groups. With tennis you can see each child for who he or she is.” Throughout the years, Osogo’s determination has got her to find various sources of material and financial support for Zion Zone; the US tennis federation is one of them, and so is the development programme Global Sports Mentoring. Nowadays, dozens of people play tennis on the clay courts rented by Zion Zone, and about twenty of them represent Kenya in national and international tennis tournaments. “The top-ranked children playing tennis in the country are from the foundation.” By late 2021, over 5,000 Kibera children had been introduced to tennis thanks to Zion Zone. Though her project has already reached incredible heights, Veronica Osogo wants more. “Some of the kids who never knew the sport became n°1 in the country. One day, I hope to have our own piece of land, with courts, a school, and a gym, so the kids can see that a life outside the slums is possible.