Rugby Made In Likoni; Likoni Community Rugby’s Story.

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It has commonly been stated that football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans while rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. When I sat down with Titus Mtawa over a conversation one evening, it became apparent that at least for the rugby bit, the saying is not misplaced. At the mention of Likoni, 9 out of 10 times rugby would most probably be the last thing that comes to mind. Before 2012 you would have been right. In 2012, in a strange bedfellow way, Likoni became the setting of what would be one of the most inspiring odd-shaped ball stories on our land, Likoni Community Rugby.

When Titus Mtawa, Gem Dennis and Geoffrey Maleu (all then playing rugby for Mombasa Sports Club RFC and staying in Likoni) came together to start the rugby initiative in Likoni, their initial plans were as minuscule as keeping children busy after Sunday School. The young team was then aptly known as Philipian Warriors, carrying the name of their parent entity, St. Philip’s Church ACK, Likoni. More children joined in and a move had to be made from the Church grounds to a bigger pitch at Consolata Primary School, which is still under ACK. There would be an unfortunate incident that ultimately forced the team to move out of the umbrella of St. Philip’s Church and adopt Likoni Community Rugby as its name. A child broke his femur bone during a game and the Church’s leadership feared similar cases in future, and pulled the plug on its ties with the team. Titus believes this is a misconception shared by many on what rugby is, especially at the Coast. As a contact sport, he feels rugby has almost the same risks as football and even in our schools, games like hockey left more lasting injuries on players. Still, he is grateful for the start the Church gave them and feels the gratitude should rightfully be reciprocated. The Church still holds two trophies of Under 12 and Under 14 categories from CAR Seven’s tournament (held at Mombasa Sports Club) that they had already won before the accident as Philipian Warriors. Titus is also quick to acknowledge Ray Dawa, Oliver Onyango and Juma Kalama of Coast Rugby Sub-Union who settled the hospital bill for the injured child, all Ksh. 180,000 of it.

The Likoni Community Rugby journey saw them incorporate a girls team into the fold, a win for girls’ and women’s empowerment. The girl’s team comprises 9 girls from Likoni, 1 from Bamburi and around 15 from Nanyuki who form part of the senior girls team. Why Nanyuki? One of the founders, Gem Dennis, relocated there for work reasons and launched a similar initiative that became a sister partner to Likoni Community rugby. It is also in Nanyuki that BATUK (British Army Training Unit Kenya) bought into and believed in the dream and came on board to donate jerseys, boots and help with other logistical support. Other notable partners in this regard have been the Jack Michel Foundation, a foundation started by Mr. and Mrs. Kirk in honour of their son Jack, a deceased soldier. Nanyuki Children’s Home has also been helpful in getting kit and boot donations from abroad. Gem’s relocation to Nanyuki was certainly a blessing in disguise, his networking resourcefulness too has proved a great asset. Away from foundations and organisations, journalist Ali Manzu has also individually come through admirably in supporting the girls team.

A lot of credit has to go to the children of course, without whom there would be no Likoni Community Rugby entity. It takes discipline and dedication to excel in rugby as is the case with every other sport and Titus is happy with the commitment which most of the chilren in the team set-up apply themselves. Taking the example of the girls team composition, the girls from Nanyuki join up with the team when school schedules allow to take part in the rugby tournaments that Likoni Community Rugby team are often invited to. Titus, Gem and Geoffrey certainly are ordinary men doing extraordinary things. The aforementioned tournaments necessitate proper planning for the travelling players and the accompanying team, where to sleep, what they will eat. Many times having to resort to out of pocket settling of these expenses. The travelling girls from Nanyuki are usually hosted at Kaya Tiwi School. It is no wonder the 3 gentlemen have turned their own social media platforms to shadow Likoni Community Rugby channels, rallying financial and material support for the team. It is that and their incredible progress over the years that caught my attention and respect. It is a noble task and at the same time a labour of love.

I ask Titus what he considers their major successes and his response reflects the vision of a man who views the initiative as more than just a game. He says that so far they have managed to get scholarships for over 25 children through Likoni Community Rugby and that is what it is all about, being a beacon of hope for the children on and off the pitch. His genuity shines through, he is fondly nicknamed Dzipapa (Big Shark), a big name for a big heart. The children have gone on to schools like Shimba Hills, St. Anne’s Girls High School (Kisii), Nduru Boys High School (Kisii) and Upper Hill School. Another success story is that of Solomon Maleu, who was called up to the Under 20 Kenya team. Solomon grew up in Shika Adabu, Likoni and earned his stripes at Likoni Community Rugby. His meteoric rise saw him move from Likoni to Upper Hill, playing for Homeboyz RFC and later the Under 20 Kenya team.

For all the good things that have happened to the near impossible dream that is Likoni Community Rugby, Titus laments a number of things. He wishes there was more support for the initiative from the County government administration. They have also had problems over the years of cementing a permanent training pitch. They have previously endured the inconvenience of missing proper training for 3 months after being asked by the Principal, Likoni Secondary School to no longer use the premises. Presently they are at Peleleza grounds. Being the pioneers of age grade rugby (training children from age 8-18), there exists few or no other teams at the Coast to compete against. For the children to develop, they need to compete against their peers. This competition is mostly in Nairobi and its environs, that means funds needed every other time for travel to tournaments held there. If their ultimate vision of becoming a fully fledged club playing in the Kenya Rugby Union League is to be realised, they certainly need that financial support and more in terms of infrastructure.

My sitting with Titus was one of those that left me feeling I can definitely do more for my community and society. I am in awe of what they have achieved with just a ball, a dream and a minimal budget. It is my sincere hope that putting this magical story out there attracts the sponsorships they most certainly have earned and that the children of Likoni deserve.

Want to stretch out a helping hand to Likoni Community Rugby? Talk to Titus Ceaser Mtawa, he is @czarbiggie on Twitter, Titus Ceaser Mtawa on Facebook and his number is 0728988161.

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