Kenya’s junior soccer stars tell CNN’s ‘Inside Africa’ about their future goals and competing in Europe

This week on Inside Africa, CNN International meets Kenya’s next generation of football stars at the Acakoro Football Academy and discovers how the sport is changing the future for the players and their community.

Stefan Koglberger co-founded the Acakoro Football Academy, a non-profit organization, in 2013 with Kenyan partners. The founders aimed to run the academy based on European models which included rest days, however the students’ enthusiasm ensured that there was no such thing. Koglberger explains: “[The students] were here all the time, they didn’t go home and watch TV. If they don’t play football, they will just wait to play football. That’s why we said: ‘Ok, let’s train.’ It makes no sense to see them suffering without the ball.”

This dedication and hard work has meant that Acakoro won one of the toughest youth football championships in Europe, The Donauauen Cup, the last two years in a row. Teddy Sirmo, a 13-year-old student at the academy, tells the programme how it felt to be the winning team: “When we finished that match, everyone was so happy and so surprised to see that we are the Acakoro Football Academy, we are from Africa and we have gone to Europe and we managed to win the cup.”

Of the Africans playing in the European professional leagues, most are from West Africa where there are many football academies. Koglberger tells the programme that he wants to change this: “Kenya is a sleeping giant in football because there is so much talent… The biggest problem is that there is not enough nurturing of the talent in the country. That’s what Acakoro is – it’s football but it’s not only football… It’s a very strong tool to change the children’s destiny.”

The programme meets Rashid Mohamed, a coach at the academy who grew up in Korogocho and now serves as a mentor for the children who come to the academy from single parent families or homes struggling with health and financial issues. Mohamed outlines why he is determined to change the lives of the children in the academy: “I believe we need to create more safe places for children and youths in order to protect them from crime and defilement.”

The children practise at a playing field next to Dandora, the biggest dumpsite in Nairobi. Mohamed explains how the site poses a safety risk to the young footballers as they train: “Kids in Korogocho face danger as a result of injuries because the environment is not safe for them… It’s a pity to grow up in such an environment.”

Mohamed believes that creating a safe environment for the children will, in turn, benefit the whole community: “When you show these kids compassion, care and kindness they actually do their best on their own. They will feel that they have a responsibility to make their lives better for their future – not only for themselves, but their own community.”

Mohammed explains why he feels passionate about his work supporting the next generation: “Football has this power to bring people together, no matter what race, religion, tribe or social class. For me, Acakoro has given me the reason to work hard for my community and create change. I am hopeful that these players will make it into professional football. I want to see these kids playing at the top of their game in order to uplift the status of their families.”

The programme follows the team as they travel to Austria to defend their title in the championships. Although they didn’t win this time, Mohamed believes that the loss has many benefits for the academy: “Losing gives you an opportunity to plan again. It applies to normal life, too – when you lose you don’t have to quit. You just have to find other means or other strategies to get back on track.”