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Yidnekachew is twenty years old and his passion is football. It has been over a year since he completed high school, however his national school leaving examination scores were not sufficient to qualify him for placement in the public universities or colleges.

© UNICEF Ethiopia -
   

While he waits for an opportunity to receive vocational training that will allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a civil engineer building roads in Ethiopia, he has devoted his time to football - serving as a coach for a group of teenagers he adopted from his neighborhood.

"I am crazy about football," states Yidnekachew. "After completing high school I found myself doing nothing. There were a group of young guys who would regularly come together to play street football in my neighborhood. One day I asked them if they would take me on as their coach, and they agreed." This was the humble beginning of a football club with a very important calling.

Football is among the strategies employed by the Tabor Wegagen Anti AIDS Association, a group of youth who came together in Awassa, capital of Ethiopia's Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) to reach their peers in their work to prevent the spread of HIV. The association has also started a small circus and drama troupe.

Participating in the football club keeps the players busy - an alternative from whiling idle hours on the streets of Awassa - and away from situations where they are exposed to the temptation of developing harmful habits. These include indulging in alcohol, chewing chat, or using other habit forming substances, which pave the way for risky sexual behavior and thus exposure to the HIV/AIDS virus. Competition between clubs also provides healthy entertainment for the hundreds of adolescents who come to watch the teams play.

The association uses the occasion of football matches to provide HIV/AIDS awareness messages to the audiences who come to the games. In addition, the team members are trained by the association to become peer educators, more effective in communicating and convincing other adolescents to adopt safe behavior patterns. Athletes, who tend to be on the upper rungs of teenage social circles, are particularly effective and influential.

The service being provided by these youth is especially important as they and their peers represent an important group for HIV/AIDS prevention and control endeavors. Poised to enter the sexually active years of their life they are at an age where they can be influenced to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

"Presented with limited opportunities for higher education and future employment, and witnessing the poverty and economic hardship that is all around them, it is very easy for young people to feel insecure about their future," states UNICEF representative Mr. Ibrahim Jabr. "Instilling self worth and self esteem is therefore critical for the success of HIV/AIDS prevention among the youth. When a person feels that their life has value and meaning it is much easier for them to correct or change habits that may put that valued life at risk."

It is with this philosophy that UNICEF focuses its HIV/AIDS programme on youth prevention, and why the football field is a logical place to be.

 

 
© UNICEF / Photo taken from the TV spot  The power of football  by Leonardo Ricagni
The issues Did you know...

During the span of a 90-minute match 375 young people age 15-24 will become infected with HIV.