Meet the Match

A Tennis Coach Harvests Hope in Kenya's Slums

Tennis and life in the slums are as difficult to put together in one’s imagination as they are in actuality. Such was the case in Kenya until former professional tennis player Veronica Osogo began her work in Kibera, a large slum settlement three miles outside of downtown Nairobi.

“The game was very strange for the kids,” Veronica says. “At first, they called it golf and they called me their golf teacher. Most of them had never seen it. But they asked me to never stop coming back and I haven’t.”

It was almost a decade ago that Veronica first entered Kibera, where the majority of its one million inhabitants live off less than one dollar a day. She brought a few rackets and balls to teach the kids the sport she fell in love with as an adult.

“During my travels with tennis, I met so many people who had challenges,” Veronica says. “It made me realize there are problems all around me, but I can do something about them. I can change a life. And I can use sport to do that. Sports are not money or food, both of which encourage dependency. Sports are lifelong skills that empower people to become independent leaders and thinkers. Someone gave me tennis and this is better than any gift they could have given to me. Now I am committed to giving it to others.”

In 2000, Veronica graduated from Guru Nanak Dev University in India with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Afterward, she competed professionally on the African tennis circuit, winning doubles titles in Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Sudan and Ethiopia. When not competing, she coaches on behalf of the Kenya Lawn Tennis Association, the sport’s national governing body, and in 2014 helped the women’s wheelchair tennis team qualify for the BNP Paribas World Team Cup, a historic achievement for her country.

In 2006, Veronica launched Zion Zone Tennis Foundation out of her early volunteer work in the slums with the purpose of engaging children through a range of activities that promote physical health, self-exploration, and, ultimately, alleviate poverty. In a nine-year span, the organization has grown from serving 28 students at its inception to more than 500 today. In 2009, Veronica won the Sport Personality of the Year (SOYA) award as Kenya’s “Community Hero” for her work.

“My biggest desire is to establish this program in different slums and reach more children,” Veronica says. “My dream is to have my own tennis center, a place for the children to come and enjoy themselves. Right now, all of the money I raise is used to pay rent to private clubs. With our own center, the kids could feel more at home and there would be more money for equipment and tournament travel.”

There is no greater mentor for Veronica than the largest women’s sports federation in the world, the Women’s Tennis Association. Working with Kathryn Chappetto, Director of Partnerships, and Cindy Lupkey, Manager of Global Administration and Projects, will not only be a personally fulfilling experience for Veronica, but also a professional dream come true. As Veronica seeks to grow the game of tennis, we feel confident that Kathryn and Cindy will give her the guidance, support, and resources she needs to exceed even her own expectations. Kathryn and Cindy’s backgrounds in marketing, communications, and public relations will undoubtedly help Veronica tell her own story and ultimately market Zion Zone Tennis to a number of new audiences – including sponsors – who can assist her in purchasing her own facility. We are excited to watch these three serve up new ideas as they dream of ways to empower underserved girls in Kiberia through tennis.

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