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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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No More Schoolgirls Examined For Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya

We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can't do that as they can be stigmatized

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

No schoolgirls in western Kenya are being forced to undergo examinations for female genital mutilation, Kenyan authorities said Tuesday, after a government official sparked outrage by proposing compulsory tests to curb the crime.

George Natembeya, commissioner for Narok County, said on Friday that girls returning to school after the Christmas break were being screened for female genital mutilation (FGM) in order to prosecute their parents and traditional cutters.

Rights groups condemned the move, saying examining the girls — aged between nine and 17 — was demeaning and contravened their right to privacy and dignity.

FGM, Kenya
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board said they had conducted an investigation in Narok after Natembeya’s statement and found no evidence of girls being tested.

“The Board hereby confirms that no girl has been paraded for FGM screening as per allegations that have been circulating in the last few days,” the semi-autonomous government agency said in a statement.

“The Board recognises and appreciates the role played by different stakeholders in complementing the government’s efforts in the FGM campaigns but we want to reiterate that all interventions must uphold the law.”

FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is prevalent across parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East — and is seen as necessary for social acceptance and increasing a girl’s marriage prospects.

FGM, Kenya
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. VOA

FGM dangers

It is usually performed by traditional cutters, often with unsterilized blades or knives. In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications.

Kenya criminalized FGM in 2011, but the deep-rooted practice persists. According to the United Nations, one in five Kenyan women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.

Natembeya said he had announced the compulsory tests to warn communities not to practice FGM on their daughters, but that there was no intention to force all girls to undergo screening.

Rights groups said the policy was rolled back following outrage.

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“We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can’t do that as they can be stigmatized,” he told Reuters.

“What we are doing is that if we get reports from schools that a girl has undergone FGM, it becomes a police case and the girl is taken to hospital and medically examined. Then the parents or caregivers will be arrested and taken to court.” (VOA)