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Girl’s football programme scores hit against HIV in Kenya

© UNICEF/Kenya/Nybo
Naomi Siombua, 15, relaxes on the sideline between matches at a football tournament in Nairobi, Kenya.
By Ainslie McBean

NAIROBI, Kenya, 12 May 2006 – Africa’s biggest youth sports organization is taking a leading role in educating girls about HIV/AIDS. Backed by UNICEF, the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) helps them develop life skills and provides information on how to stop the disease from spreading.

Some 17,000 children take part in activities organized by MYSA, which was originally set up in 1987 as a football club for boys from the local slum districts. It became one of the first programmes to integrate youth sports with community service, gradually expanding to include an environmental clean-up initiative, a study hall and library, leadership training and girls’ football.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah visited MYSA while attending the 114th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Nairobi this week. The IPU promotes international parliamentary dialogue and the establishment of representative democracy worldwide. UNICEF supported a panel at the meeting addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, particularly women and girls.

New role models

On her visit to MYSA, Ms. Salah learned how the programme empowers girls through sports and life skills development to help prevent HIV/AIDS.

Providing the girls with these skills enables them to spread accurate information and help to reduce the incidence of the disease, as well as combat other threats such as rape, prostitution and drug abuse. MYSA trains new peer educators on these issues every year.

© UNICEF/Kenya/2006
Dr. Khadija Abdallah (left) briefs UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah (third from right) and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on a visit to a paediatric hospital in Garissa, Kenya.
“The work you are doing here is so important, especially because of the emphasis MYSA is putting on the participation and empowerment of girls,” Ms. Salah told a group of peer educators.

“The involvement of girls and women in MYSA is setting new role models for the community and helping to fuel the aspirations of other girls – not only in sports but also in their contribution to their community and fight against the HIV/AIDS virus,” she continued. “UNICEF is inspired by your work and your efforts to take this important approach to other communities in Kenya and to other countries in Africa.”

More than a sports club

MYSA staff launched their HIV/AIDS Prevention and Awareness Project in response to an increase in the spread of the disease in Mathare. They recognized that young people from MYSA could play a key role in AIDS prevention.

In fact, hard-working single mothers, who make up the majority of the Mathare population, have little or no time to communicate with their children. Peers are therefore left with the responsibility of passing on vital information, which, if incorrect, can lead to risky behaviours.

MYSA has become much more than a typical sports club. For many children, it has become a place for physical, emotional and educational support; a place offering guidance so that they make the right choices; and a place that encourages them to give back to their communities.



UNICEF - 2006 FIFA World Cup


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