Kenyan Footballer Joseph Thumbi Wangige – From the streets of Kenya to Newport, England


Newport, England – Written by IFX President, Michael Carlson

Since founding IFX in 2003, we have worked with hundreds of players over the years from all corners of the globe. I can say that we have worked with many exceptional players who exhibit tremendous qualities both on and off the field. But recently during a visit to the Isle of Wight in England, I had the great pleasure to meet a very special player with whom I have worked with for the past 2 1/2 years to bring over to Europe.  Joseph Thumbi Wangige, a 23 year old Kenyan footballer, from the small village of Nyeri, Kenya, has overcome so much in the course of his life, and is truly an inspiration. I would like to tell you his story.

Born to a single mother, homeless in the streets of Nyeri, Joseph grew up literally living in the streets, involved at the young age of 8 in street gangs, smoking marijuana, sniffing glue, pick pocketing and running into trouble with the police. One day while Joseph was outside of a grocery store begging for change, an American man came up to him and asked him something in English, which he did not understand since Joseph only spoke the local language. A bystander acted as a translator helping the American man and the young Joseph communicate. The man asked Joseph if he would like to get off of the streets and and go to school to get an education. He explained further that he can take him to this shelter right then to get out of the street life. Joseph agreed to go with the American man, and it hopped in his car. It was Joseph’s first time riding in a car. He was taken to the St. Mary’s Street Children Rescue Center, where he began his primary education and was able to live and grow up with at least 400 other children from similar circumstances.

This American man, Richard McKay, is to this day a major fundraiser for the St. Mary’s Street Children Rescue Center. He and the late Brother Dominic Jordan, Brother Peter Kombe, and many others saved the remains of a poor, homeless and hopeless kid, and made a hopeful boy out of him.

Rich McKay contacted me 2 1/2 half years ago about this exceptional young man, Joseph Thumbi Wangige, who was rescued from the streets and has become a leader and role model in the school and also an exceptional footballer. Rich and I then began the effort to organize for Joseph to come and play football in Europe through our Pro IFX Year Germany program. After much effort and 2 German visa denials and 2 visa denials for our Spain program, we decided to try one last option with our program in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, Joseph’s charged spirit and a never give up attitude finally paid off and his student visa for the UK was approved in November 2015.

Joseph was ecstatic with the great news and to have made it to England under the IFX football program.  Since November, he has developed into a more professional footballer playing for the Isle of Wight’s top Amateur club Newport F.C., playing in the futsal national league, and training next other footballers with the Portsmouth F.C. Isle of Wight Academy team. He has been enrolled in the Isle of Wight College BTEC Football Development Program, a sports science program which covers a wide range of courses in sport and football, preparing students for a career in the football industry.

After 2 1/2 years of working with Rich McKay and Joseph, I finally had the chance to see Joseph face-to-face and it was truly emotional for us both. I think we both felt this sort of surreal feeling because at one point we simply were about to give up hope. To hear his story and all that he had overcome and to see him so happy, pursuing his dream in football and not taking for granted for a second his time in England, and enjoying and taking advantage of every opportunity that came his way in England, had me smiling for days.

  • Joseph Thumbi Wangige, who was rescued from the streets and has become a leader and role model in the school and also an exceptional international footballer.

During my visit with Joseph in the Isle of Wight College office, he had us rolling in laughter after he explained his weekly training schedule. Each morning he goes for a 10 mile run. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday he trains with the Portsmouth FC IOW Academy team. Tuesday and Wednesday he trains with his Amateur club Newport F.C. Thursday nights he plays in a futsal league. And then either Saturday or Sunday he has a match with Newport F.C!!

Joseph explains that football has kept him off the streets and away from drugs and violence. There has never been a single day that passes without him kicking a ball.

Joseph hopes to become a professional footballer but realizes that this may not ever come to be. Nonetheless, he is dedicating his life to the sport and believes football will play a massive role in helping his family abandon the slum life and live a better life. His biggest goal is to make a change in his family’s life, to buy his mother a home and pass his football experience to the poor street kids in the world.

Joseph, you are a great inspiration and I know you will make your dreams come true!

A special thanks to Rich McKay (Joseph’s sponsor), Brother Kombe and everyone at the Isle of Wight College who made this all possible.

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