Meet the Match
An Advocate for the Disadvantaged in Kenya
Maqulate Onyango grew up in an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. She was the firstborn and only girl in a family of seven. Mathare, the slum area where she was raised, lacked many basic amenities like electricity, running water, security, and sanitation. Like the majority of families in Mathare, Maqulate’s parents struggled to find work and to feed their children. Most days, Maqulate and her four brothers were fed only one meal a day, all that her family could afford. Obviously with such little money, paying for primary and secondary school was not possible. And when it was possible, Maqulate’s brothers were the ones to attend, as they were the ones who were expected to provide for their own families in the future. As a result, Maqulate did not attend school on a formal or consistent basis until she was thirteen years old.
At the age of 13, Maqulate was approached by MYSA, the Mathare Youth Sports Association. MYSA offered Maqulate an opportunity to play in their local soccer league and to participate in community clean-up projects. In return, they would pay for Maqulate to attend school.
“The MYSA football fields were within walking distance from my home. I would go there to watch. I wanted to be a part of it so bad. I was stressed, I could not afford lunch, I was alone, and I needed company to distract me from my hunger and worries. I needed people to talk to and to guide me. I wanted to laugh, to have fun, and compete. MYSA met those needs and they forever changed my life.”
Maqulate excelled in the MYSA program. When she wasn’t on the soccer pitch or volunteering in the community, she could be found in the library catching up on the years of education she missed. “By the age of 13, I still couldn’t express myself. I was lacking basic knowledge. So I read lots of books. And I borrowed old school notes from my friends. And I stayed in the library, reading and studying. I wanted to change my life and I knew education was the only way.”
In just five short years, Maqulate taught herself how to read and write at a level proficient enough to graduate from high school, earning an academic scholarship for her studies. Upon graduation, Maqulate purposefully wanted to give back to the organization that had given her so much. She began by volunteering as a coach for the young girls league.
One day while coaching, it struck her that all of the officials on the field were men – there were no female referees in the entire organization. Soon after this realization, Maqulate approached the organization about becoming a female official. MYSA agreed, making Maqulate one of the few female football referees in all of Kenya. After several years of training and great success, Maqulate later became the first Kenyan woman to be selected as a Match Commissioner by the African Football Confederation (CAF), one of the highest honors and responsibilities performed by a football official.
Since that time, Maqulate has used her platform to promote the training and education of other women and girls in officiating, sports training, and lifeskills development. For her hard work, Maqulate was appointed Director of the Sports and Environment Program at MYSA. Through this appointment, she has developed a number of programs including workshops on HIV/AIDS awareness, gender-based violence prevention, child protection, and teenage pregnancy aversion. She currently works with more than 500 women and children on a consistent basis, using sport as the convener to initiate important life skills discussions.Read the Blog Article