Kenyan kids wearing soccer jersey donated by Israeli peers from The Equalizer. (Photo: courtesy via ISRAEL21c)

The Israeli academic-and-sports program The Equalizer has begun in Kenya with 60 students wearing used jerseys and cleats sent for free from Israel.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, ISRAEL21c

Four Kenyan schools are the newest ones to adopt an Israeli model called The Equalizer (Sha’ar Shivyon in Hebrew), a unique program of academic tutoring and soccer coaching for at-risk schoolchildren, run by volunteer teachers and coaches.

The program has been implemented in school districts in Serbia, Gambia, Cameroon and Swaziland (Eswatini), says The Equalizer founder and executive director Liran Gerassi.

Gerassi and co-director Uri Shaham readily provide interested educators with guidance on operating the program, which instills values such as mutual respect, tolerance and coexistence, while enhancing awareness of how education and organized sports can prevent violence, crime and racism.

But Gerassi and Shaham cannot offer funding or equipment. Their own expenses are covered by Israeli sponsors including companies, colleges, universities and government ministries, as well as UK bodies such as the British Embassy and the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA).

However, when Peter Tosho of the CASO Africa Youths partnership in Kenya said he needed some uniforms to get started, Shaham had an idea: Why not donate jerseys from that year’s Israeli cohort? Many of the kids would get new ones the following year anyway.

“Whoever knows Uri knows that there aren’t many things that remain an idea, and he came back to me the next day and said, “There is an amazing response from the field!”

In the end, about 80 jerseys – enough for four teams – were donated by Israeli kids from many of The Equalizer’s 220 participating schools. Before sending them off to Kenya, the children wrote their signatures or messages on the shirts for the future owners. Some soccer cleats and coaches’ equipment also were donated.

Yair Bitton, CEO of DHL Israel, arranged to send the five boxes of jerseys and gear for free and even paid Kenyan customs fees.

The Equalizer has begun in Kenya with 60 students and 16 teachers and coaches. Gerassi shared photos with the Israeli kids who donated their uniforms.

“I’m sure that seeing the outfits they donated on the Kenyan children did a lot for the Israeli children. This has taught them an important lesson. But I must note that we have learned a more important lesson: As they say in English, ‘When there is a will there is a way.’ When someone wants to donate and help, there is always a way, even if there is not a lot of money. The main thing is that there is a will,” says Gerassi.