In every program that Coaches across Continents works with, we generally have one full day that focuses on teaching HIV education through football. Ben, the training coordinator for Kisumu Youth Football Association (and the best-dressed man in Kenya), told us he was very interested in seeing the HIV training we were planning to do with the coaches. So after playing the HIV football games with the group, we took a moment to ask him what he thought…
Ben started off by telling us that HIV is the biggest problem affecting the people of Kisumu, and it seems he’s right. The Nyanza province, of which Kisumu is the capital, boasts the highest HIV infection rates of any province in Kenya, with about 15% of the population estimated to be HIV-positive. The virus continues to spread despite the best efforts of many HIV awareness and prevention organizations in the area. Ben said that although these organizations are working hard to slow the spread of HIV, there has yet to be any change in the behavior of the people of Kisumu. So what is the problem?
First of all, there are many social barriers that hinder the efforts of these organizations. For example, the cultural practice of wife inheritance results in the remarriage of widows, usually to a family member of the deceased husband. Because of this, some women are forced into relationships with men who may be HIV positive. Despite social barriers such as this, Ben thinks that a change can be made in the community if the problem is approached in a different manner.
He said that the current methods of teaching HIV education to children are ineffective because they are not engaging, so the children are unmotivated to make a change. “In most cases, people lecture the children and give their perspective on the problem of HIV. Children go to the classroom to learn HIV facts, but there is no enjoyment and we do not see any behavior change afterwards.”
We asked Ben if anyone had ever used football to educate the children of Kisumu about HIV, and he said that the medium had not been effectively used. “Sometimes in Kisumu we have football tournaments where children are playing games. On the loudspeakers, there is someone shouting information about HIV while the children are playing. But the children are not focusing because they are involved in the games, so the information isn’t getting to them.”
After that, Ben told us why he thinks football could be an effective medium for teaching HIV education in the region. He said that football engages the children and brings peer groups together to learn while having fun, making negative peer pressure less formidable. Eventually, change can be monitored more easily in the peer groups. Ben also said that football can be used to combat the stigmatization that HIV often causes. “Football brings together all children, even if some of their parents or family members have HIV or AIDS. It is a strong tool for reaching all those infected and affected by HIVFootball brings together all children, even if some of their parents or family members have HIV.”
Ben then told us about the “informed decision-making” model he has helped to introduce with KYFA. He said that the HIV training we did with the KYFA coaches complements and strengthens the informed decision-making idea because we emphasize that each child can make choices to avoid contracting the virus. He especially liked our “Good Choices” game, a possession game that introduces a number of specific choices that a person can make and results in consequences when bad choices are made.
Ben noted that all the HIV games we played were engaging and fun, so they would leave more of an impression on the children. “Your training was participatory, lots of fun, and branded to the football here in Kisumu. It wasn’t stressful, and there was lots of enjoyment from the coaches. When you play the good choices game, it is more effective because they are learning through the game. It’s not just HIV; many other social issues are incorporated. You can talk about making good choices in all aspects of life – with drugs, relationships, politics, and cultural issues. Eventually people will make good choices, which will reduce violence, reduce disease, and reduce many other social problems that we face in Kisumu.”
It was incredible to hear Ben talk so passionately about battling HIV and the other problems affecting the people of Kisumu. What was even more incredible was hearing how optimistic he is about the power of football to bring change to the community. He believes that the HIV and life preparation games introduced by Coaches across Continents can be used to effectively demonstrate to the children of Kisumu that the choices they make will determine their own futures.
We couldn’t agree more, and we are confident that the KYFA coaches are up to the task.
So how do we sum it all up? We’ll let Ben do that… “Choices, choices, choices. Good choices in all areas and then I am a happy man!”
Interview by Coach Anna who has worked the past two months in Kenya with Coaches across Continents