“Joining Mathare Youth Sports Association transformed my life for good.”
Maqulate Atieno Onyango, from the Laureus-supported Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) project in Kenya is the youngest person and the first Kenyan woman to be selected as a Match Commissioner by the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF). Her achievements have made her a role model to thousands of young people from the project and across the notorious Mathare slums.
Mathare contains one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa with several hundred thousand inhabitants, of which over 70 per cent are women and children. Disease is widespread and AIDS has stolen the lives of many in the community.
Born in abject poverty, Maqulate is one of four children in her family who used to live in a tin shack and survive on one meal a day. Childhood, for Maqulate, was like a nightmare with no running water, electricity and food.
At Mathare, some of the girls in their early teens turn to drugs and prostitution to make ends meet. However, Maqulate changed her life by joining the Mathare Youth Sports Association in 1995 as a 13-year-old footballer and went on to become the first female referee at MYSA. In 1997 she was elected Secretary of the Mathare Zonal Executive Committee and two years later she was trained as a referee and started officiating at MYSA league matches, eventually progressing to the higher leagues with older players.
Maqulate joined the MYSA staff in 2000 as a project officer in the Jailed Kids Project and in 2006 she was appointed by MYSA as a project leader for an international sport for development project in Kampala, Uganda. Later, Maqulate became Manager for the MYSA Zonal Sports and Training Project. She was also trained as a referees’ assessor and in 2010 she was selected by CAF to become a Match Commissioner.
“I attribute all my success to MYSA for believing in girls and giving us the same opportunities as boys to excel on and off the field. I thank God he led me to football and I avoided all negative vices.” Maqulate said.
Today, the 32-year-old is not only a role model but she has also been able to transform the life of her family. She now pays school fees for her brothers, takes care of her parents and has moved them from Mathare to a more secure place. But what makes Maqulate feel prouder is that she is impacting on the lives of so many young people not only in Kenya, but across Africa with her role in MYSA.
She just recently finished up a month-long mentorship in the U.S. this September, learning how to take her hopes and dreams for girls in Kenya and turn them into an Action Plan, letting her voice heard at the highest echelons of American government.
"Sports, it's my life," she says. "Without sports I could not have gone to school. Without sports I would not be in a position to encourage girls to stand up for their own dreams and rights.”
Maqulate encourages the many boys and girls who would like to emulate her, “In life you have to be patient, committed, disciplined, work hard and put God first and you will be successful in whatever you do.”