It is sometime in 2009 and an eager Mr. Azim Deen is looking for a place to take his 5 year old son for rugby training around Nairobi. After a few false starts, he finally stumbles on a hand full of kids on a hot Sunday afternoon playing at the RFUEA grounds, willing to take his son in.
Little did he know, that it was the start of something very special…
As he fondly recalls how he sat on the stands and watched his son play, I quickly ask, why rugby, why not cricket or football, even basketball? His eyes light up, as he takes me back to 1980 when he first played rugby at the Kenton College, Nairobi.
“I first picked up a rugby ball in Kenton College, when I was five or six years old, I played at wing, then full back, tried out at flank before I settled at scrum half.” He takes me back to his final two years at Kenton, 1984 and 1985, by this time he was playing for the first team.
“We had gone through the whole 1984 season unbeaten, and as we started our senior year in ‘85, we had a handful of players from that team, including myself, so we were pretty confident of another decent year ahead.”
“Our first game was against Imani School at home, they weren’t meant to cause us any trouble, but to everyone’s surprise, we struggled to a 20 all draw. We were missing six or seven first team players so we were never worried much.”
“Next game was against our bitter rivals Pembroke School, we had beaten them both home and away the previous year, we had our players back, and we were feeling pretty confident.” He then laughs sheepishly and in between the laughs, with his face almost completely covered he goes on, “They beat us 54-0, it hit us hard, we could not believe it.”
Kenton went on to turn things around in the return game, Azim says it was a performance and a year that they were proud of. Soon he was off to Strathallan School in Scotland.
A thirteen year old Kenyan boy of Indian decent, claiming that he could play rugby, the odds were stacked against him and he was never given a chance.
“I was never given a chance, the coach never looked my way and I questioned whether I really needed to continue playing. The school had six rugby teams, ranked from team one to six and I found myself playing for the 6th team.”
“I was never serious, rarely trained and I just played for the sake of it, till one day when we were playing a training match against the 4th team and I played really well, after the game the 4th team coach asked me to join them, which I did.”
“I still wasn’t very serious, but played a couple of games and once the 2nd team coach came to watch us play and he immediately called me to join them, despite everyone else advising him against it.” Azim knew that he needed to repay the faith the coach had showed in him, so he got down to work.
“There was this game where we had five or six players missing and the coach picked me as match day captain, I played the game of my life, when the other guys came back I was retained as captain and kept on playing well, going on to play in the first team in my final year.”
Azim was back in Kenya in the early 90’s and landed at Impala where he had a short stint between 91 and 92, he eventually faded away from the playing scene due to other commitments.
“You had earlier on asked me, why rugby? Rugby has taught me a great deal of lessons in life, the biggest among them being resilience, determination and a never giving up attitude. These lessons have seen me through some difficult times in my life and it was these lessons that I wanted my son to learn from this sport.”
After that Sunday afternoon, Azim took his excited son, Zayn back home, already looking forward to the next rugby run out.
“I had noticed that Zayn didn’t have anything to eat or drink, so on the next Sunday, his mum packed for him a few snacks and a bottle of juice and we were off to the RFUEA grounds.”
“After the session was done, I handed Zayn his snacks and the rest of the kids asked for a share, he was happy to share with his mates.” On the way home, Zayn had a small request, “Dad next Sunday can we have snacks for everyone?”
“It was around ten to twelve kids, it wasn’t much so the next time we had snacks for everyone, and after the session the kids sat down enjoyed their snacks and went home happy. The very next weekend, the numbers had doubled and the next and the next…”
And that is how the Shamas Rugby Foundation started.
Today, the foundation hosts over 1,500 children and youth and from its humble beginnings at the RFUEA, has expanded and established centers in Mathare, Eastlands, Kangemi and Tatu City area.
“We knew we were onto something special when we saw how the kids enjoyed themselves on the Sunday afternoons. We simply could not let this program fail, looking back at the nine years, it has been quite the journey.”
Between 2013 and 2015, the Shamas Rugby Foundation took a total of 63 children under the age of 13 on rugby tours to South Africa and the UK. In 2014 the team won the Bowl category at the prestigious Wellington School Rugby Tournament.
Among the notable names to have been on these tours are Samuel Asati (KCB), Maxwell Omondi (CUEA Monks), Samuel Otieno & Brian Omalla (Upperhill School).
Last year, the foundation fielded a team in the KRU Nationwide league in addition to the Women’s team that has been playing in the Women’s league since 2016.
Currently, through the ‘More than Rugby’ campaign, the foundation has shifted its focus to holistically impact on the lives of the children and the communities around them.
“There is a need to impact the lives of the children we train more than just on the rugby pitch, to equip them with everyday skills and knowledge to take on life and its challenges. From scholarships, life skills and community engagement with the families around our centers.” Azim explained.
In the just concluded KCPE & KCSE exams, Shamas Rugby Foundation had over 150 beneficiaries sitting for their exams.
So what next for Shamas?
“Our vision is to become a fully-fledged, sustainable Rugby Academy, where we can offer a holistic education and life skills training to our students.” A confident Mr. Azim stated.
While Shamas Rugby Foundation has recently managed to secure funding from sponsors, most notably Tatu City, more needs to be done for them to actualize their vision and have a positive impact on children across the country through this beautiful sport.
This Saturday 8th December, the foundation will be hosting a fundraising touch tournament at the Braeburn Garden Estate School, team registration is KES 10,000 for a team of adults, KES 5,000 for a team of children, 200 bob for the fans.
If you will not be able to make it to the tournament, you can make your donations through MPESA Pay Bill number 962291, all proceeds from the tournament will go to funding different programs.
To view more of their programs and what they have managed to achieve over the years or find out how you can support further, visit their website here https://www.shamasrugby.co.ke