Mariam Mell’Osiime Mpaata, 38, is a mother of four and the Founder of Junior Stars Youth Development Programme based in Mombasa. Originally from Uganda, Mariam has been living in Kenya for 14 years now. She shares her motherhood journey with us, and also talks of how her love for football has enabled her make an impact in the lives of many youngsters.
Tell us about your Family
We’ve been blessed with four children: Imran, 16, twins Aslam and Afraa aged 10 years and our baby Hannah, 4 years. I tell you, being a mother of four is tougher than a PhD! But I completely love it – there’s never a dull moment in my house. I always thank God for the opportunity to be a mother to my own children and all the other children he has put under my care.
What inspired you to start Junior Stars Football Academy?
When we moved to Kenya from Uganda, I had just completed my degree in Development Studies and was very eager to settle down in a good job. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that jobs don’t come easily, and I ended up being a housewife for seven years!
During my stay-at-home stint, I found myself religiously following my then seven-year-old son through his every passion. His love for football particularly captured my attention. One day, he kicked his ball into the windscreen of our neighbour’s Mercedes Benz and I had to pay for it. After doing so, I decided to enroll him in a football programme. But I wasn’t able to find one nearby, and that’s when I began toying with the idea of starting a small football programme for my son and other boys in the neighborhood.
However, this was the time Kenya was experiencing the post-election violence of 2007-2008, and I was not sure anyone would want their children out in the fields playing. But when the reconciliation process started, I began to realize that football could actually be one of the tools that could get children back to the playing fields. I pursued the idea, and I opened the doors for the Junior Stars Youth Development Programme on 8 April 2008 with 15 boys from different religions, tribes, and economic backgrounds.
Eight years later, the small dream has now turned into something I can hardly comprehend. Junior Stars Youth Development Programme has become a dynamic youth programme that uses football and mentorship programmes to connect with over 50,000 youth. The football programme takes in children aged between 6 – 16 years (both boys and girls), while the mentorship programme is for those aged 11 – 25 years (both boys and girls).
You have helped nurture talents of many young people through football. How does that make you feel?
We have not yet created the Messi’s and Wanyama’s of this world, but it certainly makes me proud to be part of a generation that not only believes in grassroots football. I also feel proud to be among those taking action to fill this gap. Football, like any other talent, requires nurturing the potential of a child from early on. I dream of a modern sports center in Mombasa where potentially talented children will have access to the best training. I am proud that young people are busy spending their time in more productive ways, hence keeping them away from social evils like drug and alcohol abuse, sex and radicalization.
Tell us more about your Children
I find my kids to be really creative, confident and funny. They constantly amaze me with the things they say and do. My 10 year-old daughter is good in singing and songwriting. My sons love football and will push themselves to achieve their football dreams. My 10 year-old son has a brilliant way with words, and he thoroughly engages me with his interpretation of life. And baby Hanna is just too cute when she is not throwing tantrums. I am inspired by each of their individual journey and involve them in most of my work so that I monitor their growth.
We love traveling together as a family and of course – playing football. We love road trips, full of real adventure and mischief. As a family we make half a team hence we could play a 5 aside game with me being the goalkeeper!
As a Ugandan who has resided in Mombasa for many years, do you expose your kids to both cultures?
Sometimes I cannot believe we have stayed in Mombasa for close to 14 years. We have embraced the culture so well. We can all speak serious Swahili and we enjoy almost every Kenyan dish. However, we dutifully taken our children back home every December to meet their grandparents and learn a bit of the Ugandan culture. This sure does help us raise Pan-African children in this era.
What are your future plans?
I’m currently writing a book titled “Boots Don’t Lie”. It’s an uplifting life memoir about my life and work. I am working around the clock to beat my 2017 launch deadline. Also, I just started a soccer club called ‘The Soccer Divas’ for amateur women. I am playing football for the first time in my life and cannot believe that I am both the goalkeeper and captain! I anticipate turning the Watoto Africa Soccer Awards (WASA) into an East African event. It involves a series of tournaments and an award ceremony, and we are now in the fifth edition.
*Mariam spoke to Sylvia Wakhisi.
Mariam was named as one of the Top 40 under 40 Women in Kenya in 2014.
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