The brutal slap of the pounding leather gloves attracts the attention of a few passers-by peering through the screened windows of the community center in one of Nairobi’s sprawling and impoverished suburbs.
Inside the dilapidated Kariobangi-Nord building, it’s almost entirely women and girls, all training under the watchful eye of boxing trainer Alfred Analo Anjere, founder of BoxGirls Kenya.
In 14 years, more than 3,000 girls and women have taken to the sport at the center, where a faded image of the cartoon character Asterix wielding boxing gloves adorns the decrepit walls.
They all started for the same reason: wanting to defend themselves in their sandy neighborhoods, which are hard worlds where poverty reigns and it is the survival of the fittest.
“One day, while I was going for a jog, a man came out of nowhere and slapped me in the face. So I wanted to go back to the gym, learn the skills and get revenge, ”says Sarah Achieng, a 34-year-old woman who turned pro.
For the most part at BoxGirls Kenya, contact sport is a leisure activity, but some have made it their living, becoming professional pugilists.
# photo1 Some have even reached the Olympics like Elizabeth Andiego, who participated in the London Games in 2012, and Christine Ongare, who will compete in Tokyo.
Anjere, nicknamed “Priest”, says he doesn’t want boxing to be revenge: “Boxing is meant to be a tool… a means of empowering girls, so that they have a voice. “
Originally from Kariobangi himself, he is well versed in the problems faced by women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Nairobi, including physical and mental violence and rape. Often, girls are forced to drop out of school because of poverty, pregnancy or early marriage.
And women are also vulnerable because they are often not economically independent, he says.
So after witnessing the bloody post-election violence in Kenya that erupted in 2007 when women and girls were often the target of attacks, he decided to take action and created BoxGirls Kenya.
– ‘Leadership, self-discipline’ –
Anjere advocates a “holistic” view of boxing, saying that women can learn from sport the skills they need in everyday life – developing confidence, self-esteem, resilience and learning “the importance of self-esteem. set goals and strive to achieve them ”.
“Growing up in these neighborhoods without self-defense is a bit difficult,” says Emily Juma, 22, a young talent in male-dominated sports.
# photo2 ″ A lot of people… see girls as a sex object, ”she says, and easy prey for an attack.
Sarah Achieng agrees, but says what they’re learning at BoxGirls is more than self-defense.
“Boxing also promotes leadership, self-discipline,” as well as self-awareness and learning to defend your decisions.
The association organizes workshops on entrepreneurship, rights, sexuality, reproduction and child protection to raise awareness among young women and men – 225 of the 967 active members in 2021 are boys.
The goal, according to Anjere, is to challenge stereotypes and “change mentalities”.
– Get into your veins –
At the Kariobangi community center, one day in May, 22-year-old Sophia Omari Amat is training in front of her six-year-old sister. But for a long time, she had to box in secret.
She says she discovered the sport when she was 12, but her father refused to let her get started. “He said to me ‘you are a Muslim, I will not allow you’. ”
But she says her mother covered her when she left for training.
“Whenever we had an event and maybe my mom wasn’t there, I would lie to my dad, pretending to see a sick friend. “
Omari Amat’s perseverance finally convinced her father, who she says is now “proud” of his daughter.
“It’s a tough sport, I’m not going to lie. But as long as you keep … it’s running through your veins, and you keep loving it more and more. “
Omari Amat now runs a BoxGirls branch in western Kenya after learning “entrepreneurship” in one of the association’s workshops.
The primary goal of BoxGirls Kenya is not to train champions, but a woman ready to take on the outside world, says Anjere.
Nevertheless, he will follow to Tokyo the fortune of Christine Ongare, whom he initiated into boxing in 2008.
“If the girls are successful in boxing (we have) happiness and pride,” he says.
“The most important thing is their choice. This is what they wanted to do in life and now they have achieved their goal. “
© 2021 AFP