When Serah Khanyereri was ushered in to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Departures lounge on the evening of 22nd August 2019, tears welled down her young cheeks. Tears of joy and disbelief. All that was unfolding before her was akin to a movie script. For a girl who had spent her entire life in the sprawling Kangemi slums, going to the United States of America- the land of hope- had never been on her mind.
But on this chilly evening, Serah was opening a new chapter in her rather modest life. She was heading to New Jersey to study at Raritan Valley Community college. For the next four years, Serah will be studying a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management. Thanks to her prowess and promising talent on the golf course, through the Africa Golf Programme (formerly Rose Naliaka Academy) Serah has been awarded a full scholarship that will see her study at Raritan Valley Community college while at the same time play on the competitive US college golf circuit.
It is a paradox that a small girl who grew up in a family that was struggling to make ends meet is on the verge of stardom. Her path to the top has not been easy. It all started about 10 years ago when she joined Rose Naliaka’s stable in a group of more than 30 girls drawn from underprivileged girls from the Ngong road neighbourhood. But even her admission to the team was not smooth!
“I vividly remember when pro-Rose Naliaka came to Jamhuri and she was mostly interested in tall girls. Being so tiny I stood no chance of being noticed. So after the girls were selected they started attending training sessions. One Saturday, I decided to follow them to observe what they were doing. This is after I heard some narrating interesting stories about this strange sport though not all of them seemed to be into it. What caught my attention most was the revelation that after training, the players were given lunch and even clothes by Naliaka,” Serah opens up.
It’s this curiosity that would change Serah’s life. “On the sidelines of the training at the Golf Park range, I just started hitting golf balls randomly. Touched by a desire to be part of the team Pro Naliaka developed an interest in me and allowed me to join the rest of the girls,” Serah reminisces.
Though young and inexperienced in life struggles, Serah saw the new sport as an opportunity to run away from poverty. Her biggest hurdle was now to sell this new-found dream to her mother. “I remember my mother had some doubts since I would leave home early every Saturday morning and come back at 3 pm. She did not like the idea till when she finally met coach Naliaka that’s when she reluctantly approved my being part of the team. And with that level of support surely I couldn’t ask for more. I knew what I need to do; put my best foot forward,” Serah recalls.
From then on, it was time to make a mark in the sport. Serah took up the sport so seriously that within a very short time she announced her arrival on the junior golf scene winning age category events. She went on to represent Kenya in several events the highlight being last year’s the AACT championship in Accra Ghana. Her journey to eminence has been stellar. She has won many ladies tournaments including Kabete Ladies open (2015), Sigona Ladies Open (2018 and 2019), Royal Ladies Open and Muthaiga Ladies Open.
Playing off handicap three, the long hitting Serah is currently ranked among the top female golfers in the country. It’s this excellence that saw Royal Nairobi Golf Club grant her full club membership which she says greatly changed her life. While at the club, she has benefitted from mentorship and readily singles out Kethi Kilonzo, Nancy Ikinu and Lucy Kisia among the ladies that have chaperoned and impacted her life.
Pro Naliaka is optimistic that Africa Golf Programme (formerly Rose Naliaka Foundation) will unlock more scholarship opportunities for deserving girls. Currently, African Golf Programme is collaborating with The First Tee, a USA based international youth development organization, which is funding Serah’s scholarship.
Serah has settled fast and will be hoping her presence in the US will be felt pretty soon. She promises: “I am looking forward to playing in competitive matches here and make people proud of me especially those who saw me growing into the sport. I am currently in the Raritan Valley Community College golf team where we train twice a week and I look forward to playing in the spring competitions. Aside from the college golf team, I have an opportunity to play golf on weekends with The First Tee program. Coach Katie Rudolph and the team are taking good care of me.”
Always willing to set stretched goals for herself, Serah has set an ambitious target of turning professional and playing on the LPGA Tour in the next five years. This is a target her mentor and coach Naliaka feels is perfectly within her reach: “Serah is a fantastic golfer! She has the distance and only needs to refine her short game. The door is open now. She has the key to the whole world.”
And as the girl from Kangemi embarks on a mission to conquer the world, she will never forget how this “alien” sport has transformed her life. “Golf has really taught me a lot in life; to become responsible, have self-control, endurance, patience, sportsmanship and so many things. Am hoping after turning pro in five years’ time, I will be able to make some money and support those who do not have the opportunity to get here and hopefully impact lives just like Rose Naliaka is doing. To the kids out there trying to chase their dreams and talents, do not give up. Remember perseverance and endurance are the key. Work hard at whatever you go at and always remember you are the best no matter what others may think of you,” she advices.