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Johanna Omolo wins 2019 Merit Award

Johanna Omolo is the winner of the $25,000 FIFPRO Merit Award for 2019 for his outstanding community work in his native Kenya.

Omolo, a midfielder with Belgian club Cercle Bruges, is improving the lives of young people in Dandora, a suburb of Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Dandora is notorious for having one of the largest dumpsites in the world. Omolo grew up close to the landfill and experienced its poor and sometimes violent living conditions, before leaving a decade ago for a football career in Europe.

“I know the potential there. I see young girls and boys who can change the world.”

— by Johanna Omolo

“When people talk of Dandora they think of drug addicts and prostitutes,” Omolo said.

“Most residents live on less than a dollar a day. Kids cannot go to school as their parents cannot afford school fees or school supplies, such as uniforms, stationery, meals.

“But I know the potential there. I see young girls and boys who can change the world.”

The Johanna Omolo Foundation helps up to 80 kids with school fees or supplies, and each month distributes sanitary pads to 200 girls so that they can continue going to school during menstruation.

“I want to give them a platform, to change the narrative of Dandora,” Omolo said.

Every year, FIFPRO hands out an award to a professional footballer for a contribution he or she is making to a community project. Over the last decade, more than $300,000 in grants went to projects led by footballers including a rehabilitation centre for disabled children in Romania and an initiative to support women’s football in Afghanistan.

Education will help children in Dandora to create opportunities for themselves, Omolo said. “That's what they need: an opportunity to show themselves, to show what they can do.

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Kenyan player union representatives James Situma (left) and Jerry Santos (right) receive Johanna Omolo's Merit Award

“When I was growing up, there were kids more talented, much stronger and much faster than me. But the difference between me and them was just the opportunity. I got lucky and I was brought here to Belgium.”

During school breaks, the 30-year-old Kenyan national team player arranges a football tournament and education programs. With this year’s $25,000 award, he plans to build a library in Dandora.

Most children don’t have a place at home where they can study and none of the schools in Dandora have a library, he said.

“The kids don’t stay at home. They go out. Some of them go to the trash or some of them might end up in crime. But these kids want to study, so we are thinking about providing a safe place for them.”