From slums to sevens, Kenya's rugby Lionesses defy odds

Kenyan rugby player Diana Awino gives CNN World Rugby a tour through Kibera in Nairobi, the largest urban slum in Africa and the place she calls home.

Posted: Feb 8, 2019 3:10 PM
Updated: Feb 8, 2019 3:10 PM

The Kibera slum outside Nairobi seems an unlikely place to find an international athlete, but for Kenya rugby sevens star Diana Awino it's the place she calls home.

Unemployment levels in Kibera, Africa's largest urban slum, are 50 percent, and only 20 percent of the houses -- largely shacks with mud walls and corrugated iron roofs -- have electricity.

There's one toilet for every 50 houses and only recently have two mains water pipes been installed.

"In order to survive there, number one you have to have a job, a paying job because you need to pay your rent," Awino tells CNN World Rugby. "You need to feed your family. It's really hard."

Visit CNN.com/Sport for more news, features and videos

Needless to say, Awino, part of the Kenyan squad that last year won the Africa Women's Sevens title in Botswana, is something of an anomaly in the 2.5 million-strong population of Kibera.

She lives with her nine-year-old son and family. To realize her dream of playing for her country, she's had to make sacrifices.

"I normally see my son in the evening," she says. "Or maybe in the afternoons. I have to go to their school to see him because if I'm training in the evening at my club, when I go back I find him asleep.

"It's really hard ... I want to change where I live. I want to move to somewhere maybe better than where I am."

READ: New Zealand strikes twice at Sydney Sevens

Bringing out the 'beast mode'

The Kenyan women's team, nicknamed the Lionesses, were crowned African champions and played in the Commonwealth Games -- finishing sixth -- and now they hope to qualify for the World Rugby Sevens Series. That would mean more funding, as well as regular tournaments against the best teams in the world.

The men's side offer a vision of how far Kenyan teams can go in rugby's shortened format after winning its first World Series title in Singapore in 2016.

The search for new female recruits, however, can be difficult, and changing the perception of rugby can be a challenge.

"Some people think, 'Oh, I don't want my daughter to play this game. It's very physical and very rough for the ladies,'" explains captain Philadelphia Olando.

"But once you get there, you feel the impact, the physicality -- it's very addictive. It makes you more competitive and it brings out the beast mode in you as a woman."

READ: Fiji 'running hot' at Hamilton Sevens

A Kenya women's league has recently been established, which has helped to grow talent, especially outside Nairobi.

Players come from different backgrounds, but Olando, part of the Kenya team that competed at the 2016 Olympic Games, insists that once an individual is part of the Lionesses squad, they become part of a much bigger family.

"We all wear the same jersey, the same boots, we play with the same ball," she says. "It doesn't make you feel like, 'I'm from the slums and I cannot fit in this game.' It's all about talent at the end of the day.

"The teamwork, the togetherness -- we fight for each other through thick and thin. If somebody has a problem ... maybe they are stranded in terms of paying their rent, we come together and fund raise for them because we need them on the field. We cannot just allow them to struggle alone."

READ: Why Georgia has rugby on its mind ahead of the World Cup

'World beaters'

Kevin Wambua has coached the Lionesses for nearly seven years, in which time he's overseen a remarkable period of progress.

Teams like New Zealand, Australia and England are able to offer their sevens players full time contracts and state-of-the-art training facilities, but Wambua thinks his side can more than match its more prosperous rivals.

READ: From South African township to Springbok Sevens

"I've seen them grow leaps and bounds since 2012 when some of them could not even catch a rugby ball to now actually becoming world beaters," he says.

"These players sacrifice a lot. Some of them come from very far away and wake up as early as 4:00am to come to training ... some of them even walk to training.

"Some of them have to leave their kids at home, some have to balance school and work. It's that resilience and that sacrifice that makes them one of a kind."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 537813

Reported Deaths: 11024
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson791691529
Mobile41177808
Madison35002507
Tuscaloosa25871454
Shelby25076249
Montgomery24549591
Baldwin21290309
Lee15946171
Calhoun14556319
Morgan14364280
Etowah13890353
Marshall12262223
Houston10602282
Elmore10115206
Limestone10031151
St. Clair9890245
Cullman9730194
Lauderdale9449243
DeKalb8853188
Talladega8325176
Walker7259277
Autauga6971108
Jackson6830112
Blount6750139
Colbert6317134
Coffee5546119
Dale4869113
Russell444338
Chilton4343113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4040152
Escambia394577
Chambers3581123
Dallas3564153
Clarke351361
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302298
Winston275673
Bibb263064
Geneva252577
Marengo249664
Pickens234862
Barbour231956
Hale223677
Butler217869
Fayette212462
Henry189644
Cherokee184345
Randolph182042
Monroe178140
Washington167639
Macon160750
Clay156957
Crenshaw153357
Cleburne149241
Lamar143035
Lowndes139653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123041
Conecuh110629
Coosa108928
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 60°
Columbus
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 64°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for this weekend. This will keep our area filled with plenty of sunshine. However, there will be some changes next week in our weahter forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather