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Kenyan golf heroine gets girls on the right course

From Isha Sesay, CNN
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Lessons from a golf legend
  • Rose Naliaka is one of Kenya's only professional female golfers
  • Naliaka is now teaching young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Naliaka hopes to one day open a golf academy with a boarding school
  • The sportswoman wants to shatter the myth that golf is a game for rich men only

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Rose Naliaka is one of Kenya's only professional female golfers, but she doesn't want to keep it that way.

The sporting heroine has decided to turn her attention from trophies and tournaments to teaching the country's younger generation about the intricacies of golf.

Naliaka has won countless awards -- including the All-Africa Challenge Trophy -- since she competed in her first amateur golf tournament 30 years ago.

She has come a long way since that competition, when she used four borrowed clubs to compete. But while Naliaka can be proud of being one of Kenya's first female professional golfers, she says her greatest achievement cannot be found in her trophy case.

"The biggest highlight of my life, I think, is starting a program to teach girls to play golf," Naliaka said.

Every weekend for the past five years, Naliaka has given golf lessons to young girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. She says it is her mission to not only pass on her skills but hopefully her passion for the game as well.

I just wanted to share this passion with the girls.
--Rose Naliaka, professional golfer
  • Kenya
  • Women's Golf
  • Africa

"I am getting old and so are the other players and we don't have other children coming up to take our space," she explained.

"I particularly have had fun in the golf course -- I have really played well," she continued. "I have enjoyed and I just wanted to share this joy, frustrations probably at times, disappointments at times but three quarters of my life on the golf course has been joy, so I just wanted to share this passion with the girls."

Most of the girls in Naliaka's golf academy come from Kibera, a slum in Nairobi. Picking these students is a deliberate attempt by the sportswoman to shatter the myth that golf is a game only for rich men.

But for her students it's not only a lesson in golf -- learning from a legend has given them new confidence, not just on the golf course, but in life.

Naliaka says through playing the game the young girls can also learn integrity, honesty, responsibility and solid judgment skills.

"For instance if you went into that little bush there and I am playing here, if you missed or have an air shot, you have the responsibility to tell me that, 'I had an air shot,' because I didn't see what you are doing down there. So hence the honesty and the judgment," she said.

"You use your judgment to select your clubs. You use your judgment to respect other people," she added. "So it is a game that is actually fantastic -- it's a great teaching tool, particularly for kids who are facing a challenging future."

The aim of the program is not just to teach golf but educate the girls on lessons in life in as well.

"When you play golf, your mind is so glued on this game," Naliaka said. "You are not going to be distracted to do other things and that is one of the best things we're doing, distracting these girls from wrong things, such as drugs, alcohol, early pregnancies, dropout, and so on and so forth."

One of the youngest golfers to enroll in the program is Ashley Awour. Only nine years old, she is already hooked and her competitive edge is sharp.

"Because it's good golf, you can win something," she said. "You can play well, you can win something."

Another student, 14-year-old Sadia Adan, has been playing for five years and says she now dreams of life outside the slum.

"If you work hard you can play and go far, and if you concentrate on what you are doing you can go to many countries," Adan said.

Naliaka has hopes to expand the program in the future. She would like to open a golf academy with a boarding school, where the girls could get a better education than they might in the Kibera.

But with the recent economic downturn she says the financial support isn't there just yet. However, for Adan and the other girls it seems the course is already set.

"I would like to be a golfer -- that's all," said Adan.