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Solar-powered lights bring night football to slum

By Emily Wither for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Solar powered flood lighting is keeping the stadium open for an extra three hours a day
  • The Mathare group was picked to host one of FIFA's Football for Hope Center's
  • The program links sports with everything from environmental clean-ups to leadership training
  • Players prefer to practice football at night when it's cooler

(CNN) -- In one of Kenya's toughest slums solar-powered floodlights are letting youngsters play football late into the night, keeping them out of trouble and giving them hope for the future.

Floodlit football matches are taking place at the Mathare Football for Hope Center, in the heart of Mathare, Nairobi. The center is run by the Mathare Youth Sports Association, which links sports with everything from environmental clean-ups to leadership training and the prevention of AIDS.

The new lights, donated by Chinese company Yingli Green Energy, will allow the center to stay open for an extra three hours a day.

For the players it's a welcome break from the hot daytime sun.

"I find it much better playing football in the evening when it's cooler," said 21-year-old local footballer Robert Chege.

Chege dreams of playing football professionally and used to practice his skills on a pitch in the slums. The Football for Hope Center has allowed him to focus on his favorite sport and grow in ability.

The late night floodlighting has helped me a lot since it has increased hours of training.
--Robert Chege, Nairobi

"The late night floodlighting has helped me a lot since it has increased hours of training," he said. "It's also very cool because it doesn't dehydrate you as much compared to some hours where you have to train and the sun is very hot."

It's thought around 20,000 young people have benefited from the Mathare Youth Sports Association, which started as a small-scale self-help project in 1987.

But from the shadows of the first World Cup in Africa last year, the group was chosen to host one of FIFA's "20 centers for 2010." The football governing body chose 20 African groups to house a "Football for Hope Center" in a bid to promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across the continent.

The programs are made in association with streetfootballworld, a Berlin based non-profit organization. A number of centers opened across the continent towards the end of last year and many more are planned for the future in countries including Ghana and Rwanda.

FIFA says it expects 50,000 people to access the Mathare Football for Hope Center this year.

"We have started to generate income through hiring the pitch at night," said Stephen Muchoki, manager of the Mathare Football for Hope Center. "The solar power has enabled us to increase the number of hours we are operating on a daily basis."

This is good news for an organization hoping to sustain itself financially once its partners pull out.

Muchoki says since the World Cup more people have been accessing the site, allowing the organization to target youngsters with its other programs.

The World Cup tournament in South Africa acted as a catalyst to many African countries.
--Stephen Muchoki, manager Mathare Football for Hope Centre.
RELATED TOPICS
  • South Africa
  • FIFA World Cup
  • Kenya
  • Soccer

"The World Cup tournament in South Africa acted as a catalyst to many African countries," he said. "More people want to get involved with the sport, not only playing it but also in other capacities such as coaching, refereeing and first aid."

But it's not just about the love of football. Off the pitch the center has also become a social hub for young people, a safe place where they can access computers, library books and also learn life skills in center workshops.

"Being around the center is cool and fun because it's a learning place as well as a sporting environment," said Chege.

It sets out to help a community who not only face unemployment, crime and illiteracy but challenges such as HIV/AIDS.

"The center has given community members an opportunity to get counseling and also at the same time to get to know their status on HIV," Muchoki explained.

"The Mathare Football for Hope voluntary counseling and testing center is the only available one in the area," he continued.

The group now hopes visiting its center will become a goal for more of Mathare's football lovers.