.

Teamwork … Mike Flynn with children from the program. Kenya has officially banned corporal punishment, yet the UN Refugee Agency says bruises and cuts are routine and broken bones are not uncommon.

FIVE years ago, Mike Flynn dropped out of corporate life in Australia.

''I had a $10 million advertising budget but a part of me was saying: 'What is the legacy?''' the former Ikea Australia marketing director said.

After leaving Ikea to start his own agency, Mr Flynn began to drink heavily. ''I didn't realise I was slipping deeper into the abyss. You don't notice it, it creeps up, then one day you're desperate and dysfunctional,'' he said.

His life unravelled like an Ikea flat-pack. His first wife left, he attended Alcoholics Anonymous and he found himself alone in a tiny flat in Neutral Bay a long way from the harbour views and fat bank accounts he had known.

He said his decision to pay to volunteer at a Kenyan orphanage was a ''thunderbolt moment''. He moved there for no other reason than it was somewhere poor in Africa where people needed help and spoke English.

''I was gobsmacked at the poverty, at the conditions, at the beauty of the spirit of the children and the lack of paper, pencils and sports equipment,'' he said.

Today 40,000 Kenyan children at 48 poor Nairobi schools are taking part in Little Sports, a program Mr Flynn launched that adapted football's red and yellow card discipline system to teach children life skills, stop violence and wean teachers off the cane.

Mr Flynn started by volunteering to give a sports lesson at a rural primary school. When he asked about equipment, they pointed him to ''two greasy soccer balls, which we would've thrown out years ago''.

Then out came the girls and boys, more than 300 of them. The boys split into an 80-a-side game of soccer with one ball. The girls played netball with the other.

His thunderbolt moments continued. At the country school where he first volunteered, he was puzzled when he saw a teacher carrying a huge stick, reminding him of a sheep station in the Australian outback.

''It dawned on me that he was herding children like sheep into the class, hitting their legs into the class,'' he said.

Kenya has officially banned corporal punishment, yet the UN Refugee Agency says bruises and cuts are routine and broken bones are not uncommon.

Mr Flynn returned to Nairobi four weeks later, fired up with the possibilities of how to give children in Kenya access to sports and life skills.

With donations from friends in Australia, he dragged a bag of sports equipment onto a field next to Nairobi's Kibera slum and waited. The first week, 50 children started playing.

''After a month, I was wondering if it was going to work. All of a sudden, there were 100, then 200, 300 and 500 children turning up on a Saturday to play,'' he said.

When a child was badly injured by another, Mr Flynn drove him to hospital for stitches, wondering how to teach good values, teamwork and discipline to children who lived in a society where violence was the norm. From his days as a marketer, Mr Flynn knew it was best to work with existing references.

''Kids in Kenya are deprived of sport but they're football mad,'' he said. ''If a kid smacks another, immediately, like in soccer, the coach holds up a yellow card. Now you are being yellow carded and you receive a warning. It's a beautiful, non-violent way to discipline children.''

If a child gets a red card, for lying, stealing or being violent, they have to leave the group and sit alone. Repeated offences trigger a counselling session.

When he received program material free from Little Athletics Australia and funding from Australian friends and The Charitable Foundation, his program moved from the slum into the schools.

Mr Flynn is now married to a Kenyan woman, Rose, and they have two small children. Little Sports has employed 200 Kenyan youth, is negotiating with donors and looks set to expand into Zimbabwe and other countries in Africa.