As darkness descends on Kibera, a slum in the Kenyan capital
of Nairobi, two groups of boys battle for victory on an unmarked
dirt soccer pitch. The light is fading so quickly that the 15-year-old
goalkeeper, Kennedy Arinda, has to squint into the gloom to protect
his goal, which is framed by two upright twigs.
The scores are level at 1-all and, despite the deepening shadows,
not one of the young footballers wants to stop playing before he
has scored the winning goal.
When the referee finally blows his whistle to signal the end of
the game, the exhausted boys groan in unison and head for the sidelines.
Now that the fun is over, Arinda and his helpers from the Kibera
Community Self-Help Programme (KICOSHEP), a local non-governmental
organization supported by UNICEF, are gently corralling everyone
together for a serious chat about girls, relationships, sex and
AIDS. KICOSHEP, in addition to supporting some 500 Kenyan children
orphaned by AIDS, helps young volunteers like Arinda in their efforts
to raise awareness about the spread and prevention of HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS.
Tonights conversation is about safe sex. For Kennedy Arinda,
Arindas father died of AIDS in 1995, followed by his mother
a year later. After a month of fending for themselves, the young
man and his four siblings moved in with their maternal grandmother,
62-year-old Diana Vugutsa, who lost four daughters to AIDS and now
receives financial support from KICOSHEP to help her look after
her 13 orphaned grandchildren. They all live together in a mud hut
measuring 10 feet by 10 feet.
The biggest problem is ignorance, said the young man.
If we can just gather them together like this to teach them
about HIV and AIDS, then there is a chance they can be saved. Some
listen to us. Others dont one day they might regret
Courage to change
One fifth of the estimated 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV
live in Kibera where there are at least 50,000 children orphaned
by AIDS. Im very worried about my friends, says
Arinda. So many of them have two or three girlfriends on the
go at any one time. It is so easy for them to get infected.
||Kennedy discusses HIV/AIDS with other
In Kibera, young men are largely uneducated and influenced by a
highly promiscuous culture. Boys here start having sex as
young as 10 years old, explains the young counsellor. Educating
boys and young men about HIV and AIDS presents one of the biggest
challenges in modern day Africa, home to 70 per cent of the people
in the world living with HIV. But activists like Arinda, willing
to be scoffed at for breaking with the norms, are slowly making
progress with their peers.
Having tired them out on the soccer pitch, the team from KICOSHEP
engage their peers in a frank dialogue about sexual health. There
is laughter and much boasting. Some of the boys tease Arinda for
abstaining from premarital sex, but they sit still long enough to
listen to the message.
In addition to organizing these soccer matches, Arinda and other
volunteers from KICOSHEP perform songs with AIDS-awareness messages.
It isnt hard to attract an audience. There is very little
to do in the slum and few of the adults have jobs.
But its the children in the audience who matter most to Arinda
and his group. Since only about half of the children here get any
formal education, these popular street performances offer the vital
information that could quell the spread of AIDS.
As night falls, the young soccer players wend their way home through
the crowded streets. The air is filled with the sounds of thumping
disco music as streams of men cram into makeshift bars for cheap,
home-brewed beer and a chance to flirt with prostitutes. Alcohol
and casual sex go hand in hand. But Arinda and his mates from KICOSHEP
are ready to wage another battle for victory. This time, the arena
isnt the soccer field its the streets of Kibera
and the goal is to save lives.