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I’m very worried about my friends

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.

Tonight’s conversation is about safe sex. For Kennedy Arinda, it’s personal.

Arinda’s 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 don’t — one day they might regret it.”

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. “I’m 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.”

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 isn’t hard to attract an audience. There is very little to do in the slum and few of the adults have jobs.

But it’s 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 isn’t the soccer field — it’s the streets of Kibera and the goal is to save lives.

Prepared by UNICEF on behalf of the Global Movement for Children, January 2001.
NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: A four-minute Betacam video about Kennedy Arinda (with English narration) plus a seven-minute B-roll (natural sound) are available.
For details, please visit our Broadcasters' pages.

© UNICEF
Kennedy Arinda (centre), aged 15, and other members of the Kibera Community Self-Help Programme (KICOSHEP) perform AIDS awareness songs to all who will listen in the Kibera area of Nairobi.
Click to view video clip (Real format, 1990 KB)

 

 

The biggest problem is ignorance.... 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 don’t — one day they might regret it.