Kibera Olympic Boxing Club
This is a story of unity and triumph. Victory over the status quo. Fighting the good fight. Defying the odds. Fighting for reform.
They were made to be the faces of violence. In the wake of Kenya's disputed December 2007 presidential election, political rivals used young people to satisfy their own bloodlust. Tribe against tribe, they killed, looted, maimed and destroyed.
But in the Nairobi slum of Kibera—one of the largest, poorest slums anywhere in the world—a young boxing coach named Hassan Abul Kadir Salim has rejected the cynical notion that Kenyan people of different ethnicities should be enemies. He can't cure poverty or make the struggle easier in this desperate corner of the world. But he can give youth something better to fight for.
As coach of the Kibera Olympic Boxing Club, he trains and mentors youth from all tribes. They come to learn from Hassan and from one another. They find rare comraderie inside these walls, a vision for unity against a backdrop of division and hatred.
Youth are the largest demographic in Kenya, where the median age is just under 19. If Hassan can influence the future of a few young men by encouraging them to build each other up in their sport, maybe they can inspire a generation to work together for a better future. "We give them hope that one day life is going to change," he says.
Aspiring to represent Kenya in the Olympics, they see the sacrifices their coach makes for them. Hassan is not paid to train the athletes, so he picks up construction jobs wherever he can to scrape together money to buy equipment and take his fighters to competitions.
A 23-year-old named Kelly Kamau Ng'ang'a is one of the club's best boxers. He is a Kikuyu surrounded by members of enemy tribes. But because Hassan treats him like family, the others do as well.
"At the gym we are connected with boxing," Kelly says. "We are like brothers."
Hassan and the young men who train with him see how peace, like violence, can spread like wildfire. Fellow Kenyans throughout Nairobi and beyond go to see the youth of the Kibera Olympic Boxing Club train and compete. They see comraderie, not bitter rivalry. The young athletes symbolize hope, a blessing for people so tired from the strife.
Because one man took a stand, they have become the faces of hope.