How Kimilili Rangers is giving hope to needy students
Famous American humorist Erma Louise Bombeck once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”
These are words embodied in Kimilili Rangers, a handball team based in Kimilili Constituency, Bungoma County.
The club was founded in 2008 with an aim of bringing together students who showed potential in handball in order to grow their talents.
“Majority of handball talents in this area especially from the students was going at waste since, after they finished their exams, they would forget with their training and go on indulging in other activities most of which were not beneficial and were killing good talents,” Team Manger Godfrey Simiyu said in an interview with Citizen Digital.
He was at the training field of Moi Girls High School Kamusinga, where the team, a mixture of boys and girls, current students and former students were training under some scorching sun.
The team, which is now a force to reckon in the Kenya National Handball League, has produced significant alumni and alumnae who have gone on to better their lives. But how did they start?
As we sit down behind the distant shadow of Mount Elgon, Simiyu reveals that after they managed to track back the young talented players, they started taking part in various tournaments held within their limits, as their participation depended on coins they had contributed.
The team rapidly grew up quickly and became giants of the local tournaments, which had Simiyu and his team thinking beyond and far. This is when they developed an initiative to track on the children especially those in schools, in order to help them in education.
“Majority of these students were coming from poor backgrounds yet they had massive talents. We started following their education progress and since some of them were even dropping out of school, we were able to get for them scholarships” Simiyu said.
Simiyu and his management would go on to link up the students with neighbouring schools, which would sponsor their education as they develop their handball talents.
The team manager cannot hide his admiration and appreciation to some of these schools, which include St. Lukes Boys High School Kimilili and Moi Girls High School Kamusinga.
True to his words, the two schools based in Kimilili are giants as far as the handball game is concerned in Kenya Secondary Schools ball games. Kimilili boys are the defending champions while Moi Girls were finalists at the national levels.
In yet another measure of ultimate honour, the team also linked up with universities and other established clubs where they fed them the students after completion of Form Four. Some of them include Strathmore University, Ulinzi (Defence forces), Kenyatta University, Iregi Teachers Training College and Kibabii University among many others.
Just to take you back a bit, the team registered in the Kenya Handball League in 2015 where they have been participating till now. It is a move which Simiyu says has helped expose his players.
“Traveling to take part in the league in Nairobi has helped our boys a lot especially in exposure because from there, they have been exposed to other clubs.”
Unlike other clubs where the transfer of a player needs some signing fees, Simiyu says that when their player has been spotted, they are not paid any money but they always ensure their boys have got a good deal.
“Our interest is not to make money from nurturing and selling of these players. We want to better the lives of these youths by making sure that when they get greener opportunities, they use them well to develop and better their life tomorrow.”
The teacher also appreciates the efforts of Dr. Josephine Wanyama, the Principal of Moi Girls High School Kamusinga who has been supportive to the club, even giving them an opportunity to train from there and also giving a chance to talented students especially the girl-child, to nurture their talents and an opportunity for education.
Apart from Kimilili Boys and Moi Girls Kamusinga, the clubs also has support from other schools like Mbooni Boys (who were finalists this year), Iraha Girls in Nyanza, Hospital Hill in Nairobi among others. Many of the Principals are closely related to the team.
Simiyu urges Principals to give opportunities to students to nurture their talents through sports, as he opines that not every student is bright in class or will make it by passing exams.
“It is not a must that a student should be bright in class to succeed in life. Some students have good talents but may be poor in class and therefore Principals can nurture students through talents which can better their lives.”
The biggest challenge however to the team, just like many sporting entities in the country, is financial struggles. Despite several efforts to reach out to the county government, local leadership and corporates, they have been shown the back door.
However, they held a harambee and bought a motorbike, a small project to try and get some income. But that has not helped much to counter the challenges they are facing especially in honouring the National Handball League fixtures. For instance, there is only one standardized stadium for handball in Kenya open for this clubs, which is located in Kaloleni.
The team is therefore usually forced to travel all along from Kimilili to Nairobi in order to honour the fixtures and just as means to survive, the team travels once per month where they play all the fixtures of the month in two days, which could be 3-4 games.
“They usually(team) travel on Friday evening, and play on Saturday and Sunday despite the fatigue. They don’t have accommodation and it is only former players and friends who help us accommodate them in their homes. Despite that, they have won ten out of the eleven matches they have played this season.” says an optimistic Simiyu.
The team is targeting to finish among the top three this season.
Kimilili Rangers also has a growing academy in Kimilili FYM primary school, where Japheth Mudambo nurtures the pupils. He has however decried lack of sporting facilities including balls and posts. He also opines that handball should be highly regarded as a fast growing sport.
“If you look for instance in Kimilili, handball is our pride with our two schools winning the national championships for years. The game does not require much and I call upon sponsors to at least come in and help us develop these talents” Mudambo said.
Blaise Mbakaya, who is the captain of the team, is encouraging youths to embrace handball, which is an easy game to learn and is attracting masses.
“Many people are embracing this game and as Rangers, we have brought different talents which have been absorbed in the industries through scholarships and jobs. We have people in the military, teachers among others and any one who wish to develop their talent in handball is always welcome to join us” said Mbakaya.