When Peninah Musyimi heard about a basketball scholarship that could pay her way to university, she was determined to win it. Never mind that the then-high schooler had never played a game of basketball in her life. Or that she didn’t own a pair of running shoes. Or that the tryouts were only a month away. Peninah had a plan.
Peninah grew up in Mathare, a longstanding informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, that’s home to more than 400,000 people living in poverty. She walked 10 miles a day to and from school, often while hungry and tired. Despite being a top student in her class, she knew university was out of reach unless she could win the basketball scholarship worth 40,000 Kenyan shillings, approximately $400 USD.
“In the slums, people cannot afford to play basketball,” Peninah says. Unlike soccer balls that are relatively easy to DIY, basketballs are expensive, and courts are usually private in Nairobi. She found a basketball court at a nearby church and convinced a young man who worked there to coach her under the guise that she would later create a girls’ basketball team for the church.
She practiced 11-12 hours a day in the month leading up to the scholarship tryouts. When the day came, Peninah was nervous but determined. She visualized the scholarship amount next to the basketball net and “I scored all of [the shots] like I was in a dream,” she says. She became the first person in her family to attend university and went on to study law and play professional basketball.