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The Street Child Who Went To Play Professional Football In Belarus: Inspiring Story Of Josephat Lopaga

In Summary:

  • You probably know the anatomy of a street urchin: unkempt hair, a plastic bottle of sniffing glue on the lips, dirty clothes, an empty stomach and a pair of differently sized shoes.
  • Josephat Lopaga did not do drugs, but he endured the street life in three different towns: Nyahururu, Nakuru and Nairobi.

The inspirational story of professional footballer Josephat Lopaga is a moving narration that there is still hope even in the worst of scenarios.

Lopaga was born in Maralal and the volatile tension of banditry and deafening gun shots became unbearable for him. He therefore made a decision to run away from Maralal and settle in Nyahururu.

You see sometimes we can underestimate the importance of peace. This may partly because never have we resided in a locality where reverberating gun shots and constant tension and bloodshed dictate the order of the day.

“In the early 2000s Maralal was not as peaceful as it is at the moment. Tribal clashes emanating from border fallout were the order of the day.”

“I could see my age mates struggling with the weight of rifles on the battlefield. I had the option of joining them but instead, I decided to flee home in search of a relatively calmer place,” he told Mozzart Sports.

Lopaga’s exodus from his home was just to have a taste of peace. But this meant he had to pay the price of being homeless.

The life of a street urchin 

When he settled in Nyahururu, the streets became his home.

The life of a street urchin is a quotidian cycle of hopelessness and each day is a rainy day.

You probably know the anatomy of a street urchin: unkempt hair, a plastic bottle of sniffing glue on the lips, an empty stomach, dirty clothes and a pair of differently sized shoes. It is a life synonymous with going through the wringer on a daily basis.

Josephat Lopaga in action with Dynamo Brest. [Photo|Bara Lopaga: Facebook]
This is a difficult life and Lopaga found Nyahururu’s weather to be hostile.

He then relocated to Nakuru by boarding a bus. He was lucky enough that the conductor read his pitiful condition and did not ask for bus fare from him.

But how was life in Nakuru streets?

He stayed in Nakuru for approximately one year. Life was still unbearable but at least more bearable than Nyahururu.

Constant confrontation with county askaris would however force him to relocate from the Lakeside city to the capital.

Finding Rehabilitation in Nairobi

But Nairobi was another unfamiliar territory; the street families were differently hardened and had the penchant for crimes and drugs. To compound the problem, he didn’t know how to navigate the complex anastomosis of streets and the skyscrapers were intimidating.

When Lopaga arrived in Nairobi, he was first given a cold welcome by a section of street children. But he had no other place to go.

There are some who wanted to induce him to drug trafficking and crime but that was not the life he wanted. Perhaps he had learnt how to stay without money and he would rather remain coinless than take a destructive path.

His unsullied nature saw him heed to the call of City Stadium Homeless Youth Rehabilitation Centre; an organisation that rehabilitates street urchins.

Football Career

The organisation is a brainchild of former Mathare United goalkeeper, Alex ‘Lalas’ Mwangi. Once one is taken from the streets, he is engaged in something meaningful such as sports and education.

Lopaga began playing for the organisation’s Shy Football Academy and enrolled for studies at Joseph Apudo Primary School. He then joined Highview Secondary School.

In 2017, the striker impressed Gor Mahia’s scouts led by Tom Ogweno who handed him a contract with the junior side of the club. He then signed for Mount Kenya United then plying the National Super League (NSL) in 2019.

Former Harambee Stars coach Stanley Okumbi brought the striker to Posta Rangers which saw the Maralal born goal poacher have his first stint at the first tier league. He scored his first goal against Tusker FC.

Lopaga also got a chance to play for the Kenyan U23 side. The footballer then joined AFC Leopards in 2022 but shortly afterwards he was having his first tenure with a foreign based club. He put his signature on paper for Omani based Dhofar Football Club.

In August 2023, the striker landed on a lucrative contract with Belarus side Dynamo Brest.

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