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soccer's tilt on hiv-aids

By unknown | May 19, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The Isaac Booi School is a plain brick-lined double storey building in the township of Zwide, in Port Elizabeth.

The Isaac Booi School is a plain brick-lined double storey building in the township of Zwide, in Port Elizabeth.

It is just after 1pm, classes are over and yet the playground is still buzzing with activity. Sticking out of the crowd of children in maroon-coloured uniforms are a few young people in bright yellow T-shirts.

They are coaches from Grassroot Soccer, a programme teaching young learners about soccer and HIV-Aids prevention.

Director Kirk Friedrich started Grassroot Soccer in Zimbabwe in 2002 after several of his friends and fellow soccer players died of Aids.

"The idea was to develop a curriculum for HIV-Aids education, based on games. Soccer attracts kids and the message from the game can easily be transferred to life," says Friedrich.

The programme combines social theory, public health methodologies, rigorous evaluation and a huge dose of passion.

After the evaluation of the pilot project in Zimbabwe and making a few adjustments to the curriculum, the model was expanded to other countries.

South Africa has a total population prevalence rate of just over 11 percent, the death rate due to HIV-Aids in areas such as Zwide in Port Elizabeth reaches almost 40 percent.

Since March 2006 Grassroot Soccer plugs in with existing education and after-school programmes and has recruited and trained about 100 people as coaches on the curriculum, reaching 3000 school children to date.

Excitement is dancing in the air as they stand gathered in a circle, hands tightly held together, enthusiasm and concentration etched on their tiny faces, unified and ready for their "energiser".

"With the energiser we get them in the mood for action," explains Siyavuya Ntabeni, 23, one of the 13 project coordinators, before he invites the group to the next game, which is called "Find the ball".

The youngsters stand shoulder to shoulder in two lines, facing each other. Siyavuya introduces the HIV-Aids ball, a tennis ball that he hands to the first team who are passing it behind their backs, trying to attract no attention to the person who actually holds the ball. The opposite team starts guessing who of the other players is holding the ball.

After taking turns a few times, Ntabeni breaks up. Sixteen pairs of eyes are resting on him when he explains the key message behind the game.

"You cannot tell if someone has HIV-Aids just by looking at him or her, just like you cannot see who is holding the ball behind his or her back. You only know your status if you go for a test."

Grassroot Soccer focuses on addressing taboos and increasing the kids' knowledge on HIV-Aids from an early age. The atmosphere is playful yet disciplined; experiencing structured learning through actively participating in sport is new for the children.

"Before a new group starts with the eight-week programme, we sign a contract with them. We discuss the meaning of our key values, which are to respect each other, feel comfortable about what we do, participate in the activities and sharing our experiences," says Ntabeni.

"Using the Power of Soccer in the fight against HIV-Aids" is written on the back of his T-shirt. Grassroot Soccer is much more than just kicking balls around the pitch.

It's the image of the sport, its ability to create connections between people, the magic of the game that attracts the children to the programme.

To be continued .


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