Kicking out HIV & AIDS through sport
By Tapuwa Mutseyekwa
Kadoma 08th April 2011:- It is the last day of the school term. As the lessons draw to an end, there is a lot of jostling and shoving as children rush to exit the school gate, all anticipating the three week vacation ahead. As seventeen year Gerald Kawaza leaves the school yard, he notices the small peer groups forming and discerns the nature of the meetings taking place.
Two years ago when his family moved from Harare to settle in this farming community 150km from the capital city, Gerald discovered that neither his school nor his new suburb offered any form of leisure for the youth. In the absence of alternatives his peers spent the day in small furtive groups such as these; experimenting with smoke, alcohol and sex: he has never wanted to be a part of these group.
“I have seen a lot of harm falling on my peers as a result of these meetings, many will fail to continue into the next school term, as they become too absorbed in these things” says Gerald, who highlights drugs abuse and sexual engagements as the most “popular” activities among his peers.
Today youths throughout Zimbabwe are faced with the challenge of coping with a devastated national economy and the loss of protective and supportive structures. The loss of guardians due to HIV & AIDS enhances their vulnerability in life. With an HIV & AIDS prevalence rate of 13.6%, Zimbabwe rates among the worst affected countries in the world, young people aged 15 and 24 account for more than half of all the new infections.
UNICEF together with the Young Men Christian Association has brought alternatives for young people through the Youth Education & Sports Programme. Three times a week, Gerald endures a 5km walk to the basketball courts in Rimuka Township where support from the UK Natcom has facilitated the interaction of youths through various sports. Boys and girls from different suburbs in Kadoma meet and compete for glory in the fields of basketball; volleyball and netball. Sporting activities are intermingled with invaluable information on reproductive health services including options on prevention of unwanted pregnancies, STI’s and HIV. It is during the half time breaks and after each match that trained peer educators lead discussions on choices related to growing up and sexuality. The Kadoma initiative is one of 11 being rolled out throughout Zimbabwe.
As a keen basketball player staying with a single mother, Gerald has derived double benefits from the programme. He has identified space to boost his basketball skills while at the same time he has the chance to engage in discussions on sexuality which his mother would never give extensively. He is confident that today he is well equipped to meet the competition of sport on the basketball court and can overcome the pressures of life in his teen years.