Soccer saved Kelvin Opiyo. Now he’s hoping it can save others as well.
Opiyo, a recent Selkirk College graduate, travelled to Kenya in December with a hefty donation of equipment from Nelson Youth Soccer. Opiyo and his wife, Nikole, are organizing a pair of tournaments in his native Mombasa that he believes will help some of the city’s impoverished youths.
“I grew up in a slum area. You know what goes on around there. Drugs, hopelessness and things like that. I was inspired through soccer that I have a disciplined life. It shaped me as a man,” said Opiyo, who spoke from Kenya on Sunday.
“I see what’s happening to most of the youth there because of hopelessness and poor parenting. They could fall into any of this stuff. I have friends I have grown up with who are criminals, and they’re dead now. I’ve got friends in jail. But also now I have youth that look up to me after we started this program with my wife.”
Opiyo started his own soccer program in Kenya in 2010, and received his first donation from J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail a year later. The program has continued ever since, with Opiyo continuing to send assistance back even after he moved to Castlegar in February 2013 to work on a business administration diploma.
“We had our own team that we trained and we empowered, and then now we’ve started working with other teams through tournaments and helping train coaches,” he said.
It was during his time in the Kootenays that Opiyo was introduced to Sveta Tisma, the executive director of NYS. This year Tisma sent Opiyo to Kenya with 80 jerseys, 15 pairs of shoes, four soccer balls, about 20 pairs of shorts and four or five shin pads. The equipment all goes to players on 14 teams who will compete this month in under-13 and under-15 tournaments.
It’s not the first time NYS has donated equipment overseas, and Tisma said the practice is a priority for the association.
“Why is it important? Promoting soccer in third-world countries. Simple as that. Helping poor kids that don’t have really any possibility of getting any uniform whatsoever,” said Tisma.
The donation is only one part of Opiyo’s work in the country. He raises funds through Multi-Nation Missions Foundation, a Christian organization based out of Abbotsford, to help kids pay for medical needs, school fees and even rent.
Opiyo joked some students he helped sponsor ended up graduating college before he did. He didn’t necessarily need to get his diploma; he had all the experience he needed already, but Opiyo wanted to set an example.
Opiyo will return to Canada at the end of the month but is already planning another trip to Kenya in 2017.
“I feel I’m called to do this and the youth are my heartbeat,” he said.