fencing, hope of salvation for teenagers in a Nairobi slum

fencing hope of salvation for teenagers in a Nairobi slum

“On guard, ready, go”: on a muddy road in a slum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Mburu Wanyoike issues his commands to a troop of teenagers in white outfits and fencer masks.

3 mins

Every week, he trains dozens of young people with the hope that, as for him, this sport will distract them from the poverty and crime that await them in Mathare, a poor neighborhood of several hundred thousand inhabitants.

Mburu Wanyoike, 27, was born and raised there. Even ten years ago, I was in crime, I was a gangster “, he declares, telling candidly how he was shot and lost two friends.

He found his salvation in fencing, after being spotted by a trainer.

A scholarship even took him to South Africa, where he obtained his coaching diploma before returning to found a club, Tsavora Fencing Mtaani, in his native slum in 2021.

In Mathare, “ the only thing they (young people) can do is engage in crime, take drugs and, for women, prostitute themselves “, he summarizes.

One of his students, Dixon Mumia, confirms. “ I wasn’t a nice guy. I was flying “, confesses the 17-year-old teenager.

His meeting with Mburu Wanyoike changed everything. “ My coach came to my house and he told my father to let me do this (fencing) because by doing this I could change my life. (…) And I saw myself change “, he says.


I was born here, but I don’t want to stay here “, he says, saying he ignores the criticism and mockery of a sport that is unknown in his neighborhood.

When my friends see (me), they laugh. They say it’s a waste of time, that this sport is practiced by the rich », he relates.

The average daily income in Mathare is around $2 (1.85 euros), according to EduKenya, an education charity working in the slum.

No resident can afford the annual $2,500 (around 2,300 euros) needed to participate in fencing training and competitions, according to an estimate by Mburu Wanyoike, who is working to raise funds to carry out his project.

After warming up in a community center – the recent floods in Kenya having destroyed their training grounds – the fencers leave to train in the street, to the roar of the engines of the matatus (collective taxis), under the intrigued gaze of passers-by and captivated children.

Students bicker over a point deemed contentious. Mburu Wanyoike intervenes.

Contemplating this happy mess, one of the students, Eline Marendes, smiles. “ They are like children, but they are like my brothers », says the 16-year-old teenager, one of the group’s great hopes.

"Touch!" Members of the Tsavora Fencing Mtaani Club training in the streets of their slum in Nairobi, Kenya on June 9, 2024

She danced before discovering fencing, a sport in which she now excels, sometimes manhandling her coach during training fights.

At first I thought it was a very dangerous sport, I thought we were going to hurt each other », Underlines the young woman, who also grew up in Mathare.

I consider myself a very great fencer “, she adds, starting to dream: “ Maybe in two years I’ll make money from fencing “.