Of athletes and engineers

He is 15 years old and blessed with such athletic grace that he makes us look like we’re trying to waltz with concrete boots on. His stage is a soccer pitch and in his short and booming career he has competed on local, regional, national and even international level, playing and excelling against kids two years older than himself.

And yet, while Baraka Laizer sometimes dreams of becoming a soccer player, all he dares wishing for is an equally improbable dream – he wants an education.

You may remember the story about Moshi Ants.

When we left Moshi, we left behind us dozens of soccer cleats and the financial foundation to start up up a sports program. The one that would, among other things, offer the possibility for those immensely resilient children to form a soccer team and participate in some games.

And they did just that. Kids with depressing past and equally depressing future looming on them were able to make soccer pitch their  “here and now haven” for an hour or two at the time, were able to be little kids who just want to play while also realizing, perhaps for the first time in their troubled lives, that they are really good at something, that they, too – have value.

“We have to make them fit”, says Isaac Rubirya, a social worker in the center, “but also fit mentally, psychologically. We want them to forget about the past, forget about the days on the streets.”

Baraka lived through a lot that would be best left forgotten. He lost his mother when she was attacked and eaten by hyenas. He lived all by his own on the streets of Arusha, a small kid with no shelter or friends. Yet his fortune turned when he was taken into Amani and he responded by making the best of every opportunity he has been given, on the pitch and in the classroom, realizing that while soccer will almost certainly not be his life, it makes him fitter in his quest for a better future.

When I first heard of great success he and other Amani kids had playing soccer, about him making the national team and participating in COPA Coca-Cola Under-17 soccer championship, I cried. To realize that it was our little effort that made it possible, that made such an impact on someone’s life was both rewarding and humbling. Many good people on AN offered their words of encouragement when I started this project and to them I offer my deepest thanks. Some have even donated to the campaign and to them I say – it was the best money ever spent.

To all, I offer this short documentary made by James Boyd late last year in Moshi.

Baraka still has a long way to go in pursuing his more realistic dream. As his buddy James said: “I must reach my goals. I must reach that what I want to be. I must be an engineer. No way out. And I must pay what Amani has done for me”.

So while kids with extraordinary sports talents keep dreaming of becoming an engineer some day, here we are, engineers and such, still dreaming of having extraordinary sports talents, and discussing the lives of those who do on a daily basis.

Ain’t life funny sometimes?

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