Barefoot Kenyan surgery

Alive & Kicking's 250,000th ball continues its journey with the Spirit of Football team from London to the World Cup opening ceremony in Johannesburg.

The smell of open sewers is never far away in the slums of Nairobi. They flow freely alongside the dense maze of corrugated roofed shacks that people here call home.

It's a harsh environment, and Andrew and Christian from Spirit of Football are upset when they see two kids stood on the sewer's shallow banks sniffing glue out of a plastic bag. The kids are no older than 10.

The slum is called Kibera, which translates as ‘jungle’. We're here to meet Wario Donne, the founder of Score Against Substance Abuse, who with representatives from the Kenyan Special Olympics team has organised a game of unified football, where players with and without intellectual disabilities play football alongside each other.

Super Wario World

The local children are drawn to Andrew and Christian as obvious foreigners. Neither has any money or food to give, but Andrew has something else to bring a smile to their faces – me. Leather footballs are too expensive for most people in Kibera. Games are often played with balls made from plastic bags, condoms and any other materials people can get their hands on. Electricity is another luxury that few people here can afford, as are shoes.

Wario leads us to a dusty football pitch without a single blade of grass. It is, however, covered in shards of broken glass, but this does nothing to stop those without shoes running across it in enthusiastic games of football. The soles of feet here are as tough as old boots.

The game attracts a crowd who gather along the touchline. One curious spectator asks Wario what exactly unified football is. Once it's fully explained, he asks which of the players are disabled, to which Wario smiles.

The spectator smiles back after realising what he has just said. He has quickly come to understand the opportunity that unified football offers those with disabilities, who often find themselves marginalised on the fringes of society.

The game goes well, but a slight tear in two of my panels exposes my inflatable bladder. One more kick and it could have been curtains. It's time to pay an emergency visit to the Kenyan Alive & Kicking centre in Nairobi.

Since starting in 2004 it has created over 50 jobs for previously unemployed adults, who along with Alive & Kicking's Zambian centre have hand-stitched hundreds and thousands of footballs to children throughout the African continent. The work itself is very skilled and stitchers complete about three footballs per day.

Me under the knife (well, needle)

I'm put in the care of the man who originally stitched me into being. His name is Bernard Ongera, a softly-spoken stitcher who lets his hands do the talking. Music plays gently in the background as our cameras film Bernard operating.

He sits at a wooden desk and replaces my torn leather using a long needle to thread the stitching through the tiny perforations that line each side of the replacement panels.

The operation is a success and I'm as good as new and ready for another kickaround. Throughout Kenya, and indeed Africa, football isn't merely an interest people have; it represents a way of life - one of hope and infinite possibilities, that Wario Donne of Score against Substance Abuse and Bernard Ongera of Alive & Kicking are working to spread throughout Africa.

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