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As alumni of the M-PESA Foundation Academy gathered at their alma mater for a leadership conference, this young man reflected on his journey in life and sports so far. 

Kerry Otieno was like any other boy growing up in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s infamous informal settlements, when he realized that the other boys in the estate playing rugby had an advantage – food.

Food was scarce for the last born in a family of seven.“We were struggling a lot and there was no food at home as I was an orphan. I saw my friends who played rugby in tournaments and would come back home with snacks. That is how I decided to join them,” says Kerry.

He has always had a slight frame and his brothers were worried that the nine-year-old Kerry, at the time, could not handle the challenge of playing in a game in which brawn and speed are an advantage.

“They used to think that I’ll get injuries so they always tried to stop me from going to play rugby,” he says of his brothers.

The first days were not easy, but the coach noticed that there was some potential in him and he had the quick feet and brain to play as a flyhalf, controlling the movement of the ball along the backline. “With time I became better and after two years, I was called up for the Kenya Under-13 team and joined the training squad,” he says. Kerry is now in the Kenya Under-20 training squad.

Kerry’s growth in the game was boosted when he joined the M-PESA Foundation Academy in 2018. He recently graduated with a IBCP certificate and is currently under a six-week trial at the Michaelhouse School, South Africa. The boarding senior boys’ school, like the M-PESA Foundation Academy, has a unique ethos, where students are encouraged to pursue their ambitions—including in academics, sports and the arts— and become the best they can be.

Kerry recently took a break and joined over 200 fellow alumni at the campus, for the three-day M-PESA Foundation Academy Leadership Conference.

Themed “Sustainable leadership for the future”, the event featured guest speakers such as Karen Basiye, the Director, Sustainable Business and Social Impact at Safaricom, Dr Felix Kiruthu, a senior lecturer at Kenyatta University and Prof Mwenda Ntarangwi, the CEO at the Commission for University Education, to mentor, motivate and challenge the academy’s alumni on how to achieve and practice transformational leadership.

Kerry says the academy rekindled his hopes and dreams as he got a chance to get the best education without having to worry about tuition fees, uniforms and school shopping for the entire time he has been there.

“M-PESA Foundation Academy has really impacted my journey. I have had the best facilities here; from the head of the institution believing in me and giving me an opportunity to use the school gym and nice food which is very nutritious, and with that, I have excelled and still growing and developing my skills,” says Kerry.

Kerry caught the eye of scouts from Mwamba Rugby Football Club in 2021 and was signed up by the team.

Last year, he made a strong debut for the club in the Kenya Cup League, and the passion and dedication he has been showing have allowed his talent to shine, and his desire is only to get better.

He said rugby gave him a second chance in life, a name, and an education.

He has already played three games in South Africa and scored 18 points.

Mwamba gave him the opportunity to interact with renowned rugby players like Collins Injera, who holds the second place for the number of tries scored in the World Rugby Sevens Series with 271, as well as being known for his achievements with the Kenyan national rugby sevens team among other notable players.

Kerry points out that rugby has taught him a lot about himself and how to deal with challenges.

“My biggest challenge is that I’m small-bodied, and you know most people have this notion that for you to be a rugby player you must be big and massive, and that’s what I’m struggling with,” he says.

He is confident he is on the path to overcoming this concern, and soon, he will become a professional rugby player and make Kenya proud.