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Jane Anyango Odongo is the director of the Polycom Development Project, a community-based organization in the Kibera area of Nairobi, Kenya. Jane initially began her organization as a project in 2004 with the goal of promoting self-appreciation and worthiness among adolescent girls. Through her work within Kibera, Jane is involved with several international organizations working towards solving issues of violence against women. In 2011, she received the Outstanding Leadership Award from Women International Network, Women Win. Jane applied for and was selected as a VVLead Fellow in 2014.

How did you begin using sport to promote peace and prosperity?

In 2007 and 2008, Kenya experienced post-election violence as a result of the disputed presidential election results. The country became polarized by political divisions. Many people were killed and a lot of properties were ruined, particularly within informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. But groups of women held demonstrations and community forums to push for peace and diplomacy. 

I longed for a way to unite and engage women in my community in this peace process. Based upon my experience playing sports during my school days, I came up with an idea to use sports to promote healing and tolerance once the violence stopped. Now, more than 2,000 residents in the Kibera slums play sports, courtesy of my organization, Polycom Development Project.

How and why do you use sport in your programming?

Polycom is focused on mobilization, empowerment and meaningful engagement with women and girls living in informal settlements in Kenya. At Polycom, we use volleyball to initiate discussions around sexual and reproductive health, conflict resolution and violence against women. Volleyball requires very little playing space, making it the ideal sport for informal settlements in Kenya which are known to have very little or no playing grounds.

Within our community of Kibera, discrimination varies based upon traits such as ethnicity, individual interests and gender. Sports, however, allow community members to move beyond these barriers by focusing on teamwork, fun, education and physical health. When a team wins, celebrations cut across divisions between players. When a team loses, they grieve as one. During the game, each player cheers for their teammates, irrespective of who they are.

Why do you think sports are a powerful tool for achieving development outcomes?

Sports are an easy way to mobilize and engage both players and spectators who come to cheer on their fellow community members. Through our model, we unite different communities through sport and allow them to form teams and compete against one another by following rules of fair play. Individuals who have never engaged with one another-let alone practiced together-communicate, collaborate, form teams and bonds that extend beyond the court.

What is the greatest lesson that you have learned while working with girls in sport?

There is tremendous power in sport to break barriers of hostility and help people discover their talents. We are all sportswomen in one way or another, and there is much talent to be tapped!

What would you tell someone that wants to use sport for development and peace, but doesn’t know where to start?

Begin by identifying the sport that you are passionate about and start with a small but committed group of people. Also, encourage community members to form and coordinate their own sporting groups so that sport activities are both organized and organic.