Learning HIV while playing ball
MANOKWARI, 16 November 2011 - For the last few months, 13 year old Yohanna Waisimon, has had a routine when school is over: playing volleyball with the new Cendrawasih Junior Team. With 12 other girls her age, she practices three times a week, and has even started to participate in competitions.
Her mother, Frederika Nerotow, is pleased with her new activity. "I like to keep her busy because she's at that vulnerable age," she admits.
Since joining the new team, Yohanna has not only learned how to serve, set and spike, but also expanded her knowledge of HIV and AIDS. Coach Bernard Wassangai sets time before practice to talk about contagious diseases.
"Coach tells us not to have sex and to go to bed by 9 p.m.," said Yohanna.
"I feel responsible for them, because without a good influence, the youth here tend to go for alcohol, drugs and sex," Coach Bernard said.
A civil servant who also coaches adult volleyball teams, Bernard recently received UNICEF-supported training on teaching HIV and AIDS , in a partnership with the provincial office of the Youth and Sports Department.
"This programme is implemented because of the enthusiasm for sports among Papuan youth and teenagers," said Yance Tamaela, HIV and AIDS officer for UNICEF in Manokwari.
"It's more achievable to integrate information on HIV and AIDS in activities they are interested in, rather than taking them to formal meetings," he added.
Sports are an important part of Papuans' lives, said Musa Kamudi, head of the provincial office of the Youth and Sports Ministry in West Papua.
"Through sports they can stay healthy and will less likely be drawn to negative activities, especially those that cause HIV and AIDS."
There are 45 sports clubs in Manokwari alone, and his office provides what it can to support the establishments of after-school sports such as the Cendrawasih Volleyball team, he said.
The training programme is delivered by the Asian Soccer Academy (ASA) Foundation, an organization that provides specialized education through sports development activities across Asia.
"ASA was involved because of its experience in developing trainings and tool kits for sports teachers and coaches," said Yance Tamaela.
The issue of HIV and AIDS, for example, can be incorporated in exercise drills, such as sprinting to evade balls, which is used as a symbol for HIV. Drills like this not only help physically develop the children, they also help get the message across about the risk of HIV, and how to avoid contracting it, said Tamaela.
Retired professional soccer player Micha Abidondifu has been coaching soccer to 15 to 19-year old boys in Manokwari since 2007. Last year he received the same training to integrate HIV and AIDS in his coaching, leading him to open a soccer school for boys and girls aged 6 to 15 in August this year.
For Rp 10,000 (little more than US$1) in registration fees and the same amount in monthly fees, children learn to play soccer properly three times a week in the afternoon at his Rendani Soccer School.
Micha believes educating children about HIV in soccer fields is an effective way to get the message across.
"Papuans and soccer are inseparable. In the field they are free to express themselves: They can run and scream; they can be themselves," he said.
He talks about HIV and AIDS before the practice or while cooling down, often using humour to defuse awkwardness. His soccer students have not only learned about the transmission of HIV, they are also taught not to discriminate against people living with the disease.
"Coach told us we can still play soccer with people infected with HIV," says Calvin Magrib, 18, who has been playing in Rendani Soccer club for a year. "In fact we should support them so they have a more positive outlook in life."
For these coaches, however, the challenge is to deliver a message that is age-appropriate, especially to younger children.
"I can't just talk about condoms to them," said Micha. "These are sensitive issues, so I have to really think about what I want to say."
For Bernard, who is a father of two boys, the challenge is even greater as he has to speak to teenage girls about issues that many find uncomfortable.
"I find it hard to convey the message to these teenage girls. It might help if I can give them some brochures for things that I find hard to explain verbally."