By DANIEL PSIRMOI
Mention ‘Handball’ and many Kenyans-a majority being football lovers- conjure images of a soccer player handling the ball, which is a fault.
In Nairobi’s Kaloleni estate however, Handball is a discipline, a sport, a game that has transformed lives of young people, a source of livelihood. Kaloleni is the home of Black Mamba, Kenya’s pioneer Handball Club that has withstood the test of time.
Whereas other estate clubs of yore like Ziwani’s Village Rangers and Umeme, California’s Desert warriors have been confined to the obituary of handball dustbin, Black Mamba has continued to thrive.
Pepela Fred of St Lukes Kimilili Boys High tries to score in their match against Chesamisi Boys.Kimilili won 46-12.This was during the term 2A Games in Kimilili District, Bungoma County in March 2014. The spot is erroneously believed to be a game for ladies.(PHOTO: DANIEL PSIRMOI)
Handball is synonymous with Kaloleni, which over the years has been the factory of the country’s best and refined handball players and even officials that run the game.
Charles Omondi, a former international and the current Kenya Handball Federation fixtures secretary is a product of this estate club.
” Black Mamba was formed in November 1982, we won the Kenya Club championship games in 1983,” recalls Omondi,( who was among the first batch of players to play handball in the estate when it was introduced in the country) when we meet at his Nyayo Stadium office for this interview, and continues to add that the club has won several titles over the years.
Today at least five players, current and former players who joined other clubs, from the group get call-ups whenever the national team is convened. Products of mamba make the bulk of national team players.
For an estate club with such rich history and one that has been churning out stars, you will expect to find high support system for the players, and good training ground for the club members. Sadly, as I found out recently, this is far from it.
“ Do not ask us if we at times as a team have problems and challenges , we at black mamba find it rough all the time,” says Bryon Agunda when a catch him up with other team members of after a training section.
He reveals that it is just raw passion for the beautiful game and hope that keeps them going.
“We have no sponsor at all, we have to dig into our pockets to facilitate ourselves incase of tournaments, and being unemployed youths, we find it at time extremely hard.”
“ We have no training gear, no first aid kit, it is a nightmare when a team member gets seriously injured.”
With the prevailing economic times being hard, a section of Black Mamba members have been forced to fend for themselves elsewhere, look for menial jobs in industrial area and other places, a factor that has led to dismal performance and posting of poor results.
“ We train in shifts. Those of us at home from 2pm-4pm, the players who have jobs train early in the morning- they go for morning run and do a little ball work,’’ says Martin Ochieng, Black Mamba coach.
Ochieng says that Mamba recently started a junior team, where children from the estate are taught handball and trained from 4PM, especially now that schools are closed.
The young-stars train under the watchful of senior players. The kids come early to the field to watch how their seniors do it. Kevin Odhiambo assists Ochieng in moulding these future champions.
“We entice the little ones with small incentives to keep them coming and we encourage them to come along with their friends. Right we have 15 junior team members and we expect more to come.” says Odhiambo,
Tyrus Ochieng, a goalkeeper for Cereals Handball Club, who began playing in the estate club, pays homage to his home team, saying that handball has bee his life.
“Personally am reaping the fruits of my exploits while at Mamba. The team has built me and made me who I am now. I was spotted while at Mamba and received a scholarship that got me through secondary school. I never paid a single cent,’’ he says quickly adds that him and his team mates from the estate have been exposed and traveled widely because of the past time.
Handball has positively transformed the lives of many a youth in the estate. This is having in mind that Kaloleni is in Eastlands, an area associated with petty crime and other vices. Being an engaging and strenuous sport just like the other, the participants after a training session think of only taking a rest and not involving themselves in criminal activities.
Gerald Juma, a former international, who doubles up as the coach of under 20 handball national team and Kimilili Boys in western Kenya, who grew up in the estate and played for Black Mamba agrees. He says that he has lost many of his friends who he grew up with because they where enticed by crime and criminal activities.
Apart from Charles Omondi, Gerald Juma and Martin Ochieng other famous coaches that call black mamba home are Jack Ochieng; the current Nairobi Water Handball team and senior men national team coach. Foreign based professional players include Charles Newa( Germany), Barack Odowa (Sweden) and Brian Mathews( Sweden).
The team former playground was turned into a parking lot for the Kaloleni chief’s camp, the members of the team being people who do not give up easily, did the unthinkable:
They converted a garbage dumping ground into a field! The handball field is now like a park, people from the estate relax on it especially on weekends. Team members say often times the ball they use is pricked with thorns, surrounding the field.
Martin Ochieng , Black Mamba reckons that the odds are stuck against them because hey have no sponsor. He says they find it hard to attend competitions held outside Nairobi and calls upon corporate bodies or individuals to come to their aid..
When asked if they have received help from prominent persons before, he singles out Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko , former Nairobi Mayor George Aladwa and former makadara MP Reuben Ndolo as having supported them at least one time.
He appeals to this people people and other potential stakeholders to come to their aid because they have to travel to Dar esalaam for a tournament.
“ East Africa Club championship games will be held s from December 2nd and we will be grateful if we are accorded assistance”
Charles Omondi, of Kenya Handball federation says as a federation they have tried to help where they can, but they still remain overwhelmed.
“The government, through CDF should develop the Kaloleni field. It is not expensive because it only requires basic facilities. Developing estate clubs will speed up the realization of vision 2030.”