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Kenya’s Deaf Rugby Team Dreams Big, Wishes to Match National Team’s Success

“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said

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deaf rugby team
Rugby is one of Kenya's most popular sports, and the country's national team has played in the World Cup. Inspired by the national team's success, members of Kenya's deaf community launched a deaf rugby team last year. Wikimedia

Rugby is one of Kenya’s most popular sports, and the country’s national team has played in the World Cup.

Inspired by the national team’s success, members of Kenya’s deaf community launched a deaf rugby team last year. The team, which is has been training for just more than a year now, has big dreams for the future.

Every Sunday, Martin Kasuivya begins his journey to the rugby pitch with a rush of excitement in his eyes. He had played football (soccer) as a child, but had never played rugby until a year ago, when officials of the newly formed Kenya Deaf Rugby Association came to his church.

Martin was born deaf and has largely remained within the deaf community in Kenya. For this story, he speaks to VOA through a sign language interpreter.

Sunday afternoon practice

“Before, when I was growing up, there was no deaf rugby, but people like to join new things so I decided let me go with a new thing,” he said.

At the pitch about an hour’s commute from his house, Martin joins 16 other players for practice. This has become the team’s weekly Sunday afternoon routine. Maurice Okwatch formed the team and the Kenya Deaf Rugby Association to support it. Speaking through a sign language interpreter, Okwatch explains his motivation.

“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said.

Funding hard to find

Deaf rugby is also played in Australia, Canada and England, and the sport is represented at the Deaf Olympics, which comes up next in 2021.

The players in Nairobi haven’t played a game yet and don’t have a sponsor. They make do with what they have: one ball and mismatched secondhand uniforms. Okwatch says the team is currently self-supporting.

“When I formed this group,” he said, “I tried to look for funding but it was very difficult and the committee ourselves we decided let’s chip in, so we bought a ball as a committee.”

deaf rugby team
“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said. VOA

Progress and big dreams

There’s no whistle here. The team’s coach, Brennan Rashid, communicates with players through sign language. In a professional deaf rugby match, the referee waves a white flag to draw the attention of the players.

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Unlike the players, Rashid is not deaf. He says that despite a lack of playing experience, the team is getting better.

“I have seen the progress, I have seen them step by step going places with it, getting a proper understanding of the game and that is the best thing I can give,” he said. Despite the various hardships, Kasuivya and the other players have big dreams, like competing in the Deaf Olympics. Kasuivya says his goal is to win the gold. (VOA)

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Kenya Starts Mass Vaccination of Girls against Human Papilloma Virus

President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the vaccine roll-out a major milestone in the fight

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Kenya, Vaccination, Girls
FILE - Children watch as another child is vaccinated in the town of Liboi, Kenya, July 27, 2011. Kenyan authorities on Friday launched a mass vaccination program against the human papilloma virus, or HPV. VOA

Kenyan authorities have begun a mass vaccination of girls against the human papilloma virus, HPV, which causes cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization, the East Africa region has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world. Kenya.

Kenya officially launched its HPV vaccination program Friday in the coastal town of Mombasa.

The vaccine will be administered free to all 10-year-old girls as part of the country’s routine immunization schedule. Girls will get the vaccine in two doses, six months apart.

President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the vaccine roll-out a major milestone in the fight against non-communicable diseases.

Kenya, Vaccination, Girls
The vaccine will be administered free to all 10-year-old girls as part of the country’s routine immunization schedule. Girls will get the vaccine in two doses, six months apart. VOA

“Access to the HPV vaccine by our girls will lead to the reduction of number of new cervical cancer cases and secure lives of our daughters and sisters,” he said. “This means that our young women who are critical to the future of our nation will be protected from early deaths.”

Kenya’s Ministry of Health says the vaccinations will cost about $7.7 million this year.

Dr. Collins Tabu, head of the National Vaccine Immunization Program in Kenya, touted the benefits of the program in a talk with reporters.

“The introduction of HPV vaccine within our setup has potential to cut back the burden of cervical cancer by close to 70 percent,” Tabu said. “If we achieve a good enough coverage, of about 80 percent.”

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He said at least seven women die every day through cervical cancer in Kenya.

“The human papilloma virus, the most common sexually transmitted disease with a prevalence of close to 50 percent within our borders, is the primary cause of more than 99 percent of all of the cervical cancers. There is a direct link, as we know today,” he said.

At least 115 other countries routinely administer the vaccine, including Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. Tabu said because of the vaccine, Rwanda has nearly eliminated cervical cancer.

Kenya has moved more slowly, possibly because of debates around the safety of vaccines.  Earlier this decade, the Catholic Church in Kenya called for a boycott of a polio vaccination drive.

Kenya, Vaccination, Girls
Kenya officially launched its HPV vaccination program Friday in the coastal town of Mombasa. Pixabay

“It’s a bit embarrassing that Kenya may be the last or second last East African country to introduce the vaccine that is supposed to protect our girls against cervical cancer,” Tabu said.

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During Friday’s launch, Kenyatta dismissed claims the HPV vaccine might be unsafe, telling the crowd, “Let us not fight science.” (VOA)