Using tag rugby to address gender inequality in rural Kenya

Ready for Lepurua vs Borona tag rugby. The smiles of those children reflected our own, you could see their real pride in their performance.

It is not every day at medical school that you get to sit in the shadow of Mount Kenya under the outstretched branches of an Acacia tree with a class of Maasai school boys, surrounded by the natural beauty of a wildlife conservancy.

I was lucky enough to experience this as part of Future Health Africa’s unique and inspiring TeamTalk project, which uses sport to help improve self esteem, education and gender equality in regions which face diverse social, economic and health challenges. 

I was part of a group of volunteers that included a mixture of doctors, medical students and committed local youth workers. Together we helped to deliver workshops addressing the importance of education, gender roles and even explored the complex issues around gender based violence. the TeamTalk project also offers a confidential sexual educational classes with long term, sustainable follow up from a local community health lead. 

Our daily routine of a game drive seeing incredible wild animals and organising energetic and enjoyable team building games between playful, yet tiring, tag rugby training sessions meant we had as much fun (if not more) than the kids!

As much as I loved camping by a pristine waterfalls, learning to drive a 4x4 and the incredible Maasai hospitality, complete with traditional songs and dances, the experience I enjoyed the most was without doubt, that moment all the boys sat together under the shade of the Acacia tree. 

After telling jokes, laughing and answering questions, we delved into deeper topics. When we spoke about sexual consent, gender violence and female circumcision it was clear the older boys, who had attended previous TeamTalk sessions, showed more understanding of these topics, and even challenged practices to change. They became intrinsic role models for the younger boys by showing respect and advocating for the females of their community. I’m sure those younger boys would in turn gain greater awareness and understanding of these issues and, inspired by their peers, become role models of the future.

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Talking with the boys under the shade of the Acacia tree. After
telling jokes, laughing and answering questions, we delved into deeper topics, When
we spoke about sexual consent, gender violence and female circumcision it was
clear the older boys, who had attended previous TeamTalk sessions, showed more
understanding of these topics.<br></p>
<p>TeamTalk 4x4 vehicle<br></p>
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<b></b>Lepurua vs Borona tag rugby
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After we finished the project in the school we travelled to a neighbouring village called Lepurua, in Lewa Conservancy as there was due to be a tournament between the schools. Unfortunately due to heavy rains causing flooding and therefore transport issues we weren’t sure if the children would make it. We managed to visit the local clinic and received a tour from the incredible health workers we even met the wonderfully eccentric traditional birth attendants, the elder Maasai women known as the “Mamas”. 

Afterwards It looked more and more unlikely that the children from Borona school would arrive, but just as we packed up, ready to go, a huge military truck drove in carrying an army of tag rugby players cheering and excitedly jumped off the truck ready to play. After overcoming the odds against the elements, they then went on to win the tournament against the home side.

The smiles of those children reflected our own, you could see their real pride in their performance and victory.

The girls and boys played and celebrated together, I’m sure they will return to their schools as teammates not just classmates with rejuvenated enthusiasm for education and the opportunities it can provide, and of course with a new and healthy appetite for the challenges and victories to come.

Get involved in TeamTalk

Johnathan joined a small team of medical students that took part in an eight day trip to Kenya, working on TeamTalk with the Maasai community to promote gender equality and encouraging girls to stay in school, through TAG rugby.

TeamTalk is one of Future Health Africa’s projects and was initiated by the Kenyan communities to break down social and gender barriers and prevent young marriages.

Medical students are invited to submit applications and fundraise to support their place on the project. Here Jonathan talks about his experience.

For further information about TeamTalk visit the Future Health Africa website.

TeamTalk volunteers including medical student Jonathan Murphy and co-founder of Future Health Africa Dr Lucy Obolensky.

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