Earlier this month, ONE paid a visit to Grassroot Soccer in South Africa. Grassroot Soccer is an organization that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop help stop the spread of HIV in developing countries.
Their curriculum consists of sessions that use activities and group discussion to deliver important prevention and life skills education to young people ages 12-25. Topics range from healthy decision-making and risk avoidance to reducing stigma of the disease. They also organize football tournaments and awareness days where they offer HIV testing and counseling to the broader community.
Along with providing treatment to people living with HIV, preventing new infections is a crucial part of tackling the AIDS epidemic. We saw first-hand how effective Grassroot Soccer is at spreading the word about HIV prevention amongst young people in their communities.
At their location in Soweto, an urban neighborhood in Johannesburg, we participated in some of their training sessions. “Risk Field” is an exercise where players dribble a soccer ball around cones that symbolize the risky behaviors that can lead to getting infected with HIV. Not having much in common with Beckham or Ronaldo, we frequently ran into our cones and got some great discussions going on what it means to avoid risks and how HIV can affect our lives and those of others in our communities.
I was struck by how energetic and warm the coaches were, and how playing in teams really did manage to break the ice and get us talking about issues that can otherwise seem taboo. After the exercises, we had a chat with the coaches, who told us how rewarding it was for them to work with kids in their communities and to feel like they were doing something to tackle the spread of this disease.
South Africa is home to the greatest absolute number of people living with HIV — more than 6 million people. Even so, incredible progress has been made to provide life-saving antiretroviral treatment to those who need it. But there is still a lot of work needed to improve HIV prevention, knowledge, and behavior, especially amongst young people.
Grassroot Soccer is funded in part by PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, for which ONE members frequently campaign. It is in part thanks to these efforts that programs like Grassroot Soccer are able to carry on building awareness about HIV prevention and providing testing for youth.