|Zimbabwean cricket star Vusimuzi Sibanda with young people from the Portmore Youth Information Centre in Jamaica.|
By David Singh
KINGSTON, Jamaica, 19 March 2007 – Following an impressive knock of 67 runs against Ireland in a match that ended in a thrilling tie at Jamaica’s Sabina Park, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Zimbabwe’s opening batsman, took time off on Friday to do the other thing he enjoys – helping children.
Young people at the UNICEF-supported Portmore’s Youth Information Centre (YIC) in Jamaica’s St. Catherine Parish welcomed the visit by the 23-year-old cricketer by inviting him to join them in a candid empowerment session on HIV and AIDS.
Mr. Sibanda’s visit was one many others being made by star cricketers throughout the Caribbean. They are an important component of the alliance between the International Cricket Council, UNICEF, UNAIDS and the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS to support the Unite for Children. Unite Against AIDS global campaign and raise awareness about HIV.
Equipped with knowledge
During an interactive session led by the Youth Information Centre’s manager, Tanya Richards, boys and girls aged between 10 and 18 openly discussed the issue of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
“How do you prevent yourself from getting AIDS?” asked Ms. Richards. “Use a condom,” one girl in the front responded. And then a discussion began with other answers bouncing back and forth, facilitated by visual aids, until all areas were covered and the youths in the room were equipped with knowledge to protect themselves.
Mr. Sibanda was warm, relaxed and gentle. These qualities and his youth help him to reach children and young people easily. He comes across more like a big brother than an international cricket star.
Goals and dreams
“I want to play cricket for the next 20 years but if I have unsafe sex I’ll cut my career short,” he told the young group. “If you can’t abstain, then stick to one partner and do the right thing.”
Mr. Sibanda also reminded the youths to value their lives and focus on important goals and dreams. “I always dreamed about being the best in my career and representing my country,” he said.
UNAIDS Monitoring Specialist Stephanie Watson was upbeat about the visit. “This is exactly what the partnership needs. What we are trying to do is to get the story about children and AIDS out there, and this is one way of doing it,” she said.
Delivering prevention messages
The UNICEF-supported YIC network was set up in 1998 by the Jamaican Ministry of Education and Culture. It provides youth-friendly centres for spreading information on a wide range of issues of interest and concern to young people.
UNICEF’s Representative in Jamaica , Bertrand Bainvel, sees the YICs as key projects to be supported.
“They offer programmes to empower youth and provide skills while helping to protect young people against AIDS,” he said. “But they will only be successful if we start with the needs of youth, listen to them and deliver prevention measures as part of wider services.”
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