Nairobi, Kenya – At a gambling harm awareness event dubbed Tahadhari Athari za Kamari Awareness Day, in Nairobi’s estate Githurai Social Hall, GASK seeks to engage the local youth in a pivotal conversation regarding the perils of gambling and how to seek support when affected. In this social hall buzzed by a range of activities are young men and women seated in groups, others on their phones appearing to be eagerly waiting to delve into this educational session. At first sight one can assume that they are browsing through the internet or scrolling through their social media. As they await the events to start, the youths appear preoccupied, communicating about something that appears too serious, one that requires their entire attention. Only to realize that they are discussing and scrolling to check the football games being played today so that they can place their bets; football games are being played thousands of kilometres away, especially in European cities. The unfurling of this moment becomes a testament to the collective efforts of this event to combat the harmful practice of betting and gambling. The event was graciously supported by the Yali Transformation Fund through USAID.

The session is initiated by GASK leaders and experts who not only welcome the attendees but also provide a detailed explanation of what this event is about delving into the intricacies of gambling and betting. The main facilitator and orchestrator is Rhoda Murugi, a certified addiction counsellor who breaks down the layers of gambling harm, shedding light on the multifaceted impact of gambling and how to combat it. What remains apparent from Rhoda’s insights is that the 2 billion dollar betting and gambling
industry has eventually evolved to become a menace among the youths in the country as continuously predicted by social scientists. The surprising fact is most of these youths seem aware of the holes they have dug themselves into as demonstrated by their comments and feedback, but are unaware and unable to stop. For instance, Makau (not his real name) confesses that he is indeed addicted to sports betting and often bets his weekly wages relentlessly.
“I am regularly betting for football teams with the hope of winning something. Convinced that each bet is better than the previous one, I place my bet again and again and 95% do not win anything. I am only able to stop when I have finished my money. Again and again, I lose my bets and also my wages, and I have to figure out where to get money for my basic needs again. Despite knowing and experiencing this devastating outcome, I have been unable to stop.”

Kelvin (not his real name), another attendee is among the few attendees willing to publicly admit that indeed they are suffering from a gambling addiction disorder. With the availability of several betting and gambling sites being advertised on conventional stations as well as social media, young girls and men are finding themselves directly and indirectly affected by the negative effects of gambling. But what appears as a major underlying issue leading to betting and gambling, is a high rate of unemployment and idleness among these Kenyan youths. For these young gamblers, what is attractive is not the sense of chance that is attractive but rather the predictability of winning that underpins their escapism and disrupts their state of dissociation.

According to Rhoda, the main paradox of betting and gambling is that, “the more one loses, the more they are willing to place even more bets. The chances of the over 10 million Kenyans placing their bets on a daily winning is as at 0.01%.” Betting appears to be like drug addiction, with the youths being at high risk due to the high rate of idleness, less familial responsibilities, high exposure to drugs and alcohol abuse and more prone to poor decision-making. Betting that once started as a leisure activity evolves to become an addiction that has to be fed to keep it going.

A crucial part of the day is the entertainment session, led by Freddy G Music, a session to connect and reflect. As Freddy G, brings Joy and entertains the crowd through the diverse portfolio of music, the attendees refresh themselves with the available snacks and beverages while reflecting on the insightful sessions.
The end of Freddy G Music’s entertainment marks the start of the second and final interactive session led by a GASK panel of leaders; Nelson Bwire and Weldon Koros. Volunteers are offered an opportunity to share their testimonials, real-life experiences and comments on gambling and betting. The raw and poignant tales narrated by volunteers such as Mike demonstrate the adverse effects that gambling and betting have had on the youths reinforcing the urgency for actions and awareness. As Mike emphasizes,
“Betting is already a full-time occupation for many of us. It is unavoidable for most of us, as there are betting kiosks all over our estate. At the same time, betting sites are being advertised everywhere on social media and even on our TV and radio stations. Therefore, the question remains how do we control ourselves from engaging in harmful betting and gambling, when we can access it anytime at a low cost of even sh. 10?”

Mike’s question fuels a poignant panel discussion between local leaders, community representatives, speakers and attendees on how we can control these act that is slowly ‘swallowing’ the youths. The discourse of the discussion not being a dialogue but a call for action for the individuals, the local leaders, betting companies and the national government. Community awareness and involvement, educational programs, calls for increased and strict regulation by the government and establishment of support
structures for addicted gamblers are some of the strategies mentioned to combat the harmful impacts of gambling.
The event concludes a few minutes past 6 pm with a resounding note – A CALL TO ACTION AGAINST THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF BETTING AND GAMBLING. All attendees are urged to spread awareness among their friends and relatives and advocate responsible behaviour as ambassadors in their communities. However, this does not mark the end of the event, but rather is the start of a movement committed
towards combating harmful gambling. The Tahadhari Athari za Kamari Awareness Day is not only an event championing against the harmful effects of gambling but also a catalyst for change. TIME TO ACT!!

Article by Lilian Wangeci.

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