Society

A Perfect Mentor in Rose Naliaka

naliaka

Rose Naliaka. FILE PHOTO | NMG

doreenwainainah_img

Summary

  • She is the first female professional golfer in Kenya, and has represented the country in various global stages before taking a break from professional golf to run her foundation.
  • The Rose Naliaka Foundation teaches golf to the less fortunate girls from Kenyan slums and rural areas, mentoring and training them to be professionals.

She is the first female professional golfer in Kenya, and has represented the country in various global stages before taking a break from professional golf to run her foundation.

The Rose Naliaka Foundation teaches golf to the less fortunate girls from Kenyan slums and rural areas, mentoring and training them to be professionals.

“It’s my way of giving back,” she says.

Her story in golfing began nearly four decades ago when a colleague of hers showed up in the office with a spanking new vanity kit. “It was one of those that came in different colours,” she says.

“I asked her about it and she said she won it playing golf,” she explains. Intrigued, Rose decided she wanted to try golf, to get herself the prized vanity kit.

Initially, she had no interest in the sport until she was informed that top players won awards such as the vanity kit and household items if she played.

“I thought to myself that I wanted those items and that is how I started. What she did not tell me is that I needed a teacher for the golf,” says Rose.

Blissfully unaware, she started playing at the Kitale golf club. That was around September 1980.

Two months in, before she could get a hang of the game, she received a job offer in Nairobi. The pay was good but she was torn with her new-found passion for playing golf.

“I decided that the only way I am taking the job is if I found a house that was within walking distance from the golf course and the office,” she says.

She found herself a house that was walking distance to both her home and office at Vet Lab, the perfect location for her.

She would leave the office at the end of the day to play golf, spending her annual leave on travelling to and participating in golfing tournaments that saw her rise to be the first Kenyan female to become a professional golfer. “I won everything I saw in front of me. I even won 10 of the vanity cases in different colours,” she says.

In 2007, she looked back and felt she had not given back to golf. She had played well, became a champion and was feted in pioneering professional golfing, but there was a need in her to do something different.

“That is when I started the programme for girls only. I have worked with these girls since they were eight years old now they are 20, 21-years-old,” she explains. “We did a really good job with them because even the top female golfer came from our programme. At 12 she was on the national team,” she says.

Unfortunately, down the line, the young prodigy was distracted in her adolescent phase leading her to drop out of the programme. “Now she has come back, we are just trying to get her and keep her on track and see what she can do. We have another six who are currently in the top 10 female golfers in this country,” explains Rose.

Mentoring and training these young girls comes with its challenges. Most start at a young age before the awkward years of teenage hit. It is during this time that they prove difficult. In fact, as we sit with Rose for the session, a girl had just been sent home for her attire that is in contravention of the golf course dress code.

“Discipline is essential. You need all those core values including discipline, responsibility and time management,” says Rose.

During her entire golfing career, she had a full time job that required her to learn how to balance her passion for golf and her eight-to-five. This required her to organise her life and be where she was supposed to be and what time she was needed there.

Learning from her own experience, she decided it was time to impart the knowledge on the new generation. This would also bring up a new generation of female golfers who seemed to not exist at the time.

“I would look around while we were playing and there were no young new girls coming up and I thought no. The joy I have felt after getting in this game, I need to share it with somebody. I need to share it with these girls. I could have been one of these girls if my grandmother did not take care of me. I grew up without my mother so if she had not brought me up and taken me to school, I would not be here. I think she is smiling down (from the heavens) at me watching me deal with these girls the same way she dealt with me, with a very firm hand,” she says.

“I am giving them a chance and transforming their lives. Most of the kids come from Kibera and when I was growing up it was the same life,” she explains. Having a tough upbringing, she opened up herself as a teacher to pass on the opportunity accorded to her to these girls.

Since it was founded in 2007, the academy has produced more than 20 girls with official single-digit handicaps. Some of the notable names to have come through the academy's ranks include former top female golfer Naomi Wafula, Mercy Nyanchama, Mary Monari and Agnes Nyakio. Other are 2018 Sigona Ladies Open winner Serah Khanyereri and Ashley Awuor.