Angola, 21 October 2010: UNICEF-supported programmes spread HIV awareness through sports
By Steve Felton
VIANA, Angola, 21 October 2010 – If it's Saturday, there’s football in Angola. Today the match is a derby between the ‘Black Eagles’ and ‘Otrack’ – both local girls’ teams.
Like most township pitches, this one is bare earth, and before the game begins the girls sit in groups for an unexpected pep talk. Instead of focusing on the match, the talk is about HIV.
A semicircle forms around Anabella Chimbinde, who works for the non-governmental organization ‘Cuidados da Infância,’ or ‘Caring for the youth.’ Ms. Chimbinde knows a lot about the topic – two of her male cousins are HIV positive. She wants the girls to know: you can protect yourself, and you can live a normal life even if you have the virus.
Cuidados da Infância’s mission is to involve young people in sports and help them avoid teenage pregnancy, drugs, and above all, contracting HIV. For the group’s Executive Director, Arnoldo Camolacongue, the issue is simple. "Everybody loves sport, and through sport we can change behaviour," he explained.
Compared to many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Angola‘s estimated adult HIV prevalence rate is relatively low at around 2 percent. But most experts agree that the figure is rising. In the south of the country it has already reached about 9 percent.
The news is not all bad for Angola’s neighbouring countries, however. In nearby South Africa there is encouraging news: While the HIV prevalence among young people remains alarmingly high, it is lower than that among adults. Many experts believe this is because young people know the risks and are acting to reduce them.
Sport is key
Ms. Chimbinde’s work in HIV prevention education takes her to schools and onto the streets of Viana. It’s rarely easy, she says. "[People] don't accept the facts at first. We have to be patient," she said.
With each new group, Ms. Chimbinde works to build a rapport. Sport is the key, she says. If children want to play basketball – which is also a national obsession in Angola – she will arrange for the municipality’s basketball court to be available.
Most of the young people that Ms. Chimbinde works with are poor, however, and cannot afford balls for soccer, handball and basketball. Playing in proper teams with decent equipment makes all the difference to their pride. To help bolster this simple yet effective intervention, UNICEF is supporting Cuidados da Infância and several related NGOs. And its funding does more than pay for balls and shoes – it also funds training for coaches and HIV educators.
Before the game kicks off today, there is another pre-match event, this time including boys. Cuidados da Infancia also hosts a theatre group, which is performing a lively skit discouraging stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. The audience hoots with laughter as young people play out the roles of ignorant adults who refuse to shake hands with people infected with HIV or who throw them out of the house.
The day ends happily – with a fast-paced football match and new knowledge all around.
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