KZN kids learn AIDS, life lessons through soccer

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Durban - A programme launched by a UK non-profit organisation to teach young people life lessons through soccer strategies has received a positive response from the youth in KwaZulu-Natal.

The programme, Whizz Kids United, was started in Africa three years ago by a UK non-profit organisation called Africaid Trust in response to the staggering new infection rate among young people.

Oli Walsh, the programme co-ordinator, told BuaNews the idea behind the programme was for young people to adopt life skills in a fun and motivational way in a language they all understand - football.

"We all speak football and by harnessing the passion Africa has for it, we draw on each facet of the game and interpret it into a valuable life skill.

"The programme not only empowers the youth to avoid becoming infected with HIV but teaches them how to become healthy and responsible citizens, motivated values such as confidence, teamwork, responsibility and self belief," Mr Walsh explained.

Speaking at the 4th Southern African AIDS Conference taking place in Durban, Mr Walsh said the programme targeted children aged between 11 and 15.

His team visits various schools each week, where they spend the first 15 minutes playing football and equipping learners with coaching skills followed by education on HIV and AIDS as well as life skills.

At the start of the programme most kids know about the disease but do not know the exact cause of the disease. However, as they begin to participate in the programme, they get more information and learn how to take care of themselves.

"We used to hear them say the disease is caused by mosquito bites and road accidents, where people touch blood from the injured people. Some knew more but were not comfortable to talk about the issue with adults," he said.

At the end of the six-week programme, two kids from each school are chosen and trained to become peer trainers.

"When choosing peer trainers, we look at learners who showed leadership skills during the programme, showed enthusiasm and how well they've picked up the lessons and level of responsibility," Mr Walsh told BuaNews.

He said currently there were 4000 children participating in the programme with the majority in South Africa and this year they had set a target of reaching 8000 kids.

Other countries involved in the programme include Uganda, Ghana and UK.

Mr Walsh noted that it was important to give information on the disease while children are still young, so as to influence their behaviour.

The organization works with provincial health departments and various organisations who assess whether the programme is working. "We also do follow up with peer trainers and hope to expand the programme through other parts of the country," said Mr Walsh.

He said Whizzkids United hoped to capitalise on the 2010 FIFA World Cup by harnessing the passion Africa has for football to address the challenge of HIV and in doing so, bring about a bright AIDS free future for the next generation of football lovers.