By Richard Edwards
11th September 2020
The chill of autumn is currently on hold as a warm front promises some late summer sun for those who haven’t felt the urge to hang up their pads for another season. In a normal year, though, Simon Prodger, the head of the National Cricket Conference, would be experiencing some genuine heat, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
In this corner of East Africa, some of the city’s most impoverished and chaotic areas have added another sound to that of beeping horns on overly congested roads and market traders tempting custom – the age-old noise of leather on willow.
The East Africa Character Development Trust (EACDT) has proved an outstanding success story in recent years, with the power of cricket being harnessed to bring hope and belief to a country that, not too long ago, was challenging for a place in a World Cup final.
Formed in 2013, the Trust was created with the aim of transforming the lives of thousands of African children through the unique power of cricket. Some seven years on, the success stories are the stuff of legion.
Prodger would usually be in Nairobi at this time of year. As it is, working alongside David Waters, the Kenya-based operations director of the charity, he’s overseeing the Trust’s ever-evolving work from his home in Hertfordshire rather than being on the ground in Africa. Unlikely to return until spring 2021 at the earliest, he says that the work of the Trust has rarely been as important.
And although the schools the Trust operates in in Kenya are currently closed as a result of the pandemic, the charity has adapted commendably and taken the programme into the communities it seeks to serve.
“It has been running for seven years delivering character education into schools in greater Nairobi, and it’s working with around 4,500 kids a week every week of the year,” says Prodger. “It uses cricket coaching and the playing of cricket to deliver character education and life skills within the slum communities of the city.
“These are all children who are born into extreme poverty, many of them, around 60%, with one or no parents. We’re trying to instil in them character traits and life skills that will help elevate them from the conditions that they were born into and hopefully develop them as people – so they can meet the challenges that they face on an almost daily basis.
“We’ve now got coaches working within the community. They’ve set up character education seminars within the communities, with parents and with children. They’ve also been doing character development by working voluntarily to carry out tasks like cleaning out sewers or helping farmers on small holdings.
"Sitting here and seeing how they’ve applied this programme is incredibly humbling. I’m so impressed and so proud of what our coaches have done.”
The project has been an astonishing success, with the creation of a cricket programme specifically designed to bring key character traits to the fore. Now, those same coaches are also bringing much-needed aid to an area that has been hit hard by Covid-19.
“Since the schools have closed we’ve been trying to reach as many of the kids that we work with as possible,” says Prodger.
“We’ve developed a programme where we raised money to provide families with 15 kilos of food stuffs – which is enough to last those families for seven to ten days. It’s just one example of how the Trust has adapted during the toughest time imaginable.”
All the coaches involved come from the communities that the EACDT is looking to serve and all share a priceless passion for a sport that, until relatively recently, looking capable of putting Kenya on the global sporting map.
Athletics and football are the two main sports in the country, with the achievements of the country’s middle and long-distance runners making Kenya’s ability to churn out world class athletes, the envy of the world.
It’s easy to forget, though, that in 2003, a side captained by Steve Tikolo took Kenya to within a match of a World Cup final. Only the brilliance of Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar denied them at Kingsmead in Durban, the latter scoring a century as India posted a scored of 270 for 4 from their 50 overs. Kenya would eventually fall 91 runs short.
Much has happened since and a country that once looked like the next cab of the rank for full member status and fallen well behind the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan.
The EACDT’s programme isn’t designed to restore the state of Kenyan cricket but clearly the more young players who play the sport, in Nairobi and beyond, the better the chances of that happening.
“Cricket is still a game that isn’t known by the vast majority of people in Kenya,” says Prodger. “Most of the kids we start working with have never heard of cricket but they quickly learn to love it. This incredible programme is demonstrating some really positive adjustments to these young people. We just can’t wait to get back into the schools, hopefully in January.”