• Taking the game of tennis beyond the courts

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Aug 31, 2010-

Jericho estate, a tough neighbourhood in the heart of Nairobi's Eastlands that in the past has been associated with all sorts of social delinquencies, was last weekend the venue of a milestone launch of the first public tennis courts anywhere within the expansive city.

The launch, the first in a series that will see many more public courts set up in other parts of the city, and elsewhere countrywide, is the brainchild of Mizizi Tennis Initiative.

The initiative was launched in 2004,and two years later Mary Muriuki, a trained tennis coach star started training children at the Jericho Sports Ground.

“We saw an opportunity to bring the game of tennis to the community and nurture raw talent in the sport ”says Muriuki on what informed her decision to set up the program in a non upmarket residential area.

Though her initiative continues to face typical teething problems that any nascent venture is bound to encounter, Muriuki is optimistic that the long-term objectives of the program are both attainable and sustainable.

“Estates like Jericho are known to be the most high potential sports areas in Nairobi and am sure in due course we will see many doors opening to a number of young people from here.”

Next on Mizizi Tennis Initiative's roster is a roll out of more public courts in two venues that have already been identified in the adjoining estates of Uhuru and Buruburu.

While Muriuki admits that the logistics of popularising a game widely perceived as a very expensive sport in the low end of the socio-economic ladder are immense, she reveals that as a follow through plan, Mizizi Tennis Initiative has a strategic community outreach program for public awareness.

“To me, the popular opinion that tennis is a high-end sport that can only be played by people living in the affluence of leafy suburbs is just a perception”, says Muriuki. “If that was the case, then names like Venus and Serena Williams, who both learnt the game on the rough public courts, would not have been.”

To this end, Mizizi Tennis Initiative intends to involve the community and give them a sense of ownership of the program and its facilities. This, the program intends to achieve this through outreach programs in collaboration with the various schools in the Eastlands neighbourhood.

The other avenue that the Initiative hopes to raise public awareness is by partnering with other stakeholders in conducting regular clinics and open tournaments in the already set up public courts. 

One such partner of Mizizi has been the area Councillor Jack Olonde who together with the Department of Housing and Social Services.

Muriuki is also full of praise for the diligence of the surrounding community for its good reception of the initiative. “The community has been very supportive. People here showed a great deal of goodwill when we were putting up this facility and in many other small ways like through the provision of clean drinking waters and storage of our equipments within their housing units ”

With the initial challenge of introducing an 'unpopular' sport in a perceived hostile and unreceptive neigbourhood having been surmounted, the immediate short term challenge for Mizizi Tennis Initiative is to build on these gains.

But as Muriuki attests “there is no big obstacle when you really want to do something” Mizizi Tennis Initiative could as well turn out to be the tennis equivalent of Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) - a slum-based sports association that was established in a similar model and that has over the years churned out world class football players in the stature of celebrated AJ Auxxerre striker Denis Oliech.

Steve Omondi

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