There is a photo on google that has been accustomed to Harambee Starlets’ qualification to their first-ever African Women Cup of Nations.
It’s an emotional picture. At least by those on it. The people are in a celebratory mood and Rosemary Aluoch, the lady we all came to call Mara, in her element, is literally carrying the team. On her back is Esse Akida who has gone flying the Kenyan flag higher on the international scene while on her right is Doris Anyango; all who can’t hide their joy after leading Kenya to their first-ever AWCON.
Mara might be crying or laughing depending on how you look at the photo. As Esse and Doris exchange pleasantries. It clearly a day they had all dreamt of.
It is 2016 and the Wind of Change is just sweeping the Kenyan football scene. Mara, just as the ladies involved in ensuring Kenya has a place in AWCON are doing their best in ensuring that the impossible is possible. Deployed as a kit manager in the newly formed team, she does her work diligently as narrated by those who walked with her through the qualification journey.
“She was a dedicated servant to the team. Everything was always set for us every time we went out be it in training or during match days,” Akida, who currently plies her trade with Turkish giants Besiktas narrates. “I still can’t believe she’s gone.”
But before the Starlets role, Mara, was a dedicated footballer in her playing days. She was a goalkeeper by profession and one wonders why they had to nickname her after Argentite great Maradona (Mara being the short form of Maradona).
Giving her all in games was to earn her the nickname according to her coach at MINCUSS Sylvester Ochola in a past interview with the Star.
“She was a fearless goalkeeper who was not scared of facing hard shots even from male footballers because sometimes we would play mixed matches. She would not shy away from a tackle.
“I remember a game against Cameroon during which she was the standout player. She gave everything to ensure the scores would remain low,” Ochola, currently the Health Club and Recreation manager at Parliament, said.
On his part, Starlets head coach David Ouma admitted that Aluoch was one of the pioneers of women football and gave her all at a time when no one really gave the ladies a chance; Ouma saying that her morale-boosting talks and spirit in the team’s camp will be missed.
“She knew how to work with everyone. She knew how to approach each player and as a coach, she was really helpful with the player. She was a cheerleader and one who would lift spirits in camp and I think it came with experience too since she had been there before. We will surely miss her,” Ouma opines.
Even with her demanding work at the national team, Aluoch dedicated part of her time to mentor young footballers and youths in her hood and according to Neddy Atieno, who worked with her before, its Aluoch who helped her with her documents when she got her first call up in the Kenya U20 team.
“We’ve been close for more than six years now. She’s been a mentor to the youths back in her hood and she was the one who helped me with my documents when I was first called to the national team while still in secondary school. I don’t think people would have known Neddy were it not for her because we had ladies who were talented but had difficulties in getting passports; that’s how they got lost.
Mara (sitting left of Sports and Culture CS Amb. Amina Mohammed, during her last days with the national team)
“That apart, what Ill mostly remember about her is the words she told me after graduating from the Under-20 to the national team. She told me to grab the opportunity and give my best at every point; not only in football but in life and in my future assignments. She is one reason why I normally give my all in whatever I do because, in her narration, she never gave up at a time when women football in this country was nowhere near where it is today. I hope I made her proud while she was still around,” Neddy opines.
As Gary Smalley would say, life is relationships; the rest is just details. Mara had a close relationship with the people he worked with and for. In her time that we had her, she was one of the best. It’s a tragedy that football, and the world he inhabited beyond it, should be mourning her now.
In their own words:
“I started watching her when I was eight years old in the MYSA Girls Tournament. She was in the opposing team with Florence Duah and it was a battle of a lifetime; I really enjoyed those two in their playing days. I really admired her (Mara) and I still don’t know how to receive the news.
“When I was the Kenya U20 keeper I worked with them again and Mara was very helpful since she knew what I needed to do to be a better keeper. I didn’t have any personal relationships with her outside football but the times we shared were some of the best and she will ramin that lady who trained me to the goalkeeper I am today”
-Pauline Atieno (Makolanders and former Harambee Starlets keeper)-