Soccer changes HIV perceptions among South African youth

The love for football is widespread in South Africa, and Africaid Trust is harnessing the sport’s potential to educate young people about HIV/Aids and how to prevent its spread.

Africaid’s WhizzKids United’s website says the programme aims to “strengthen community responses to adolescent health and development through the power of football”.

Founded in 2005 by HIV nurse specialist Marcus McGilvray, WhizzKids United is based in Durban, South Africa, and has benefitted more than 40 000 children and adolescents.

Whizz 1Winner of the Juggle a thon competition hosted by WhizzKids United on World Peace DayInitially developed in response to the increasing number of HIV infections among young people in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) province – said to be the epicentre of the HIV/Aids crisis nationally and globally – the programme is now used in African countries such as Ghana and Uganda. The bulk of operations is in KZN.

According to the organisation’s website, “The HIV prevalence rate in KwaZulu-Natal is estimated at 16.5%* with ante-natal clinics, in some areas, reporting prevalence rates above 60%.”

The organisation considers soccer, or football, an effective learning tool as it appeals to children – it gives them a dynamic, engaging and goal-orientated way to learn crucial information; it also transcends culture, gender and background because it is so universal.

“Football enables the kids to unite and forget about discrimination,” says Mlungisi Khumalo, media coordinator at Africaid for WhizzKids United.

“They unite under the banner of football; those that are living with the virus and those without the virus.”

DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

The WhizzKids United Health Academy offers KZN youth health services such as HIV/Aids counselling and testing; an Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) support and feeding scheme; one-on-one sexual health counselling; psychological support for HIV-positive youth; and sexual assault crisis referral. The academy also provides antiretroviral treatment.

Established in June 2010, the Health Academy had more than 8 000 beneficiaries register in its first year of operations, with some 1 000 individuals receiving healthcare or counselling.

The academy has become an integral part of the community, serving as a venue for the WhizzKids Mixed Gender Soccer League. The league is held after school hours, filling the time between children going home and their parents returning from work. This unsupervised time, according to the website, is said to be a contributing factor in young people turning to drugs and alcohol.

The league teams each have two captains; a boy and a girl, and play by Fifa Fair Play rules, without a referee. Gender inclusive rules, such as allowing only girls to take free kicks, help promote gender equality.

A number of government departments want to replicate the project in provinces across the country to drive youth development and help lessen the impact of HIV/Aids on young people.

“This is arguably one of the most exciting jobs or voluntary venture that one has to do on a daily basis,” says Khumalo.

“It’s personally rewarding that one has the opportunity of bringing change in a community in need but most importantly, it’s waking up every morning and conquering a new challenge.”

ON THE BALL

Whizz 2Charlize Theron with WhizzKids United CEO Marcus Mcgilvray, the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg Chris Ndlela and Edendal Hospital CEO Zanele Ndwandwe.On the Ball intends to develop an understanding of life skills using football as “an extended metaphor”. The project links how players fit into the team dynamic with how young people define themselves in an ever-changing society.

It also links anticipating and overcoming obstacles with getting to know an opponent to win a match; and shows how protecting goal posts and safety on the field is similar to protecting personal health.

The game’s tactical aspect shows the need to think things through when planning a future and hones decision-making skills by linking them to consequences.

By linking life skills to the skills necessary to be a good football player, WhizzKids United has managed to change the way the children view health issues, and bust myths surrounding HIV/Aids.

“In this type of project, it is paramount for us to equip the kids with the necessary skills that will enable them to spread the message about HIV/Aids and to teach communities about the disease,” says Khumalo, commenting on the long-term impact the organisation aims to make in young people’s lives.

HOW TO PLAY YOUR PART

To volunteer or get involved with the Africaid WhizzKids United programme, visit the get involved page on the website, email the organisation or call 031 201 5866.

Donations can be made via PayPal by clicking the donate link on every page of the website and following the instructions.

Corporations looking to partner with the organisation can visit the partnership page or email chief executive officer, Marcus McGilvray.