a life lesson

"Football is a universal language, it appeals to both men and women of all ages and it's easy: you don't need lots of resources to play football as long as you've got something to kick around. Besides, kids like the idea of being part of a team and they understand the language of football. That's why we use an assortment of analogies in our teaching."

"Football is a universal language, it appeals to both men and women of all ages and it's easy: you don't need lots of resources to play football as long as you've got something to kick around. Besides, kids like the idea of being part of a team and they understand the language of football. That's why we use an assortment of analogies in our teaching."

Kirk Friedrich works closely with Football for Hope, a Fifa and streetfootballworld initiative dedicated to promoting development through football worldwide.

"Having Fifa's support is immensely helpful for Grassroot Soccer as it not only helps us improve our programmes but also adds a quality seal to our efforts and recognition of the work that we do."

One of the 200 kids with Grassroot Soccer in Zwide is Lungi. The tiny 12-year-old girl is planted between two teenage boys next to her in the circle, making her appear younger than she really is. This is until she begins to tell her story.

Lungi has lost her parents to Aids.

"My father was first diagnosed with TB. With treatment, he seemed to be getting better. But he started drinking again, things got worse and he passed away."

Soon after her father's funeral her mother started to have shortness of breath and got sicker by the day. She was diagnosed with HIV and died a year after Lungi's father. Lungi is being raised by her sister and extended family.

"The Grassroot Soccer programme teaches me to be strong and to know that I am not the only one that has lost parents to HIV. My favourite game is the one called "choices", teaching us about making our own choices. There are things you can choose and things you can avoid."

Lungi joined the Grassroot Soccer street league in July. The street league gathers twice a week at the Imbewu multi-sport courts and is open to everyone between 10 and 18 years. Siyavuya, who introduced her to Grassroot Soccer, sees her as an energetic young girl and a very receptive learner.

"She can achieve the best in life and be a role model for others," he says.

In July, when Grassroot Soccer youngsters were selected as the 22 player escorts for the "90 minutes for Mandela" special Fifa match honouring Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday, Lungi was one of them. She walked onto the pitch with none other than the legendary Pele.

A shy smile emerges on her face when she recalls the evening, as if walking next to the king of soccer is nothing to be nervous and nothing to be proud of. For her it's perhaps a fairly small achievement, compared to what she had to cope with already in her very short years.

"I've been through a lot," she says and her face becomes serious as she searches for the words in English. "Grassroot Soccer helps me to get on with life, it makes me ready for life."

As she sits in her bedroom, all walls painted in her favourite colour pink, reciting her own poetry, she looks just like any 12-year-old who loves dancing, writing poems, pink clothing, and South African Kwaito star Zola "because he is kind".

"Lungi is a strong character because she grew up without parents. She knows her background, she is willing to go past her background. That's a great success," says Siyavuya. "The programme has taught her that there are always parents around you, even if they are not your own."

Bouncing back and staying strong as well as respecting others are key lessons for the children.

Near the Isaac Booi School is the Dora Nginza Hospital, a large complex at the edge of Zwide township. Mlulami Mabandla is the chief medical officer at the Children's Clinic, the province's forerunning clinic in the supply of antiretrovirals.

Mabandla sees between 30 to 40 HIV-positive children daily. He is encouraged by the progress the clinic has made.

"We currently manage to get most of the people who need ARVs onto them. Prevention is what we are lacking."

He sees the success behind Grassroot Soccer in the action-driven curriculum.

"Children don't like to be dictated to. They respond better to an informal situation, where the education is brought about as a game."

And while the country is gearing up for the games in 2010, Kirk, Siyavuya and the rest of the Grassroot Soccer team are working towards sharing their football-based curriculum with more organisations to reach as many kids as they can.

In a 2006 study on the "Demographic Impact of HIV-Aids in South Africa", the Cape Town Centre for Actuarial Research projected that the number of people infected with HIV in 2010 will be just above 5,8 million out of an estimated population of 49 million people. There are things you can choose and things you can avoid.

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