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Sports programme helps children fight AIDS and abuse in Zimbabwe

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006/Elder
Children take part in the UNICEF-supported ‘Kicking AIDS Out’ sport programme, which raises HIV/AIDS awareness among school-age children in Zimbabwe.

By  James Elder

MUTARE, Zimbabwe, 9 November 2006 – Betty Mahomva, 9, ties her hair into a ponytail, stretches her legs and concentrates. She and her classmates are playing a game, but they are also learning an important lesson – how to avoid HIV/AIDS.

Two rows of children armed with tennis balls and cheeky grins are ready to fire. Betty’s brief is to run through the middle and dodge the balls. The 9- and 10-year-olds scream with delight as she sprints down the narrow corridor, jumping, weaving and zigzagging. One or two balls strike her ankles, but the aim of most of the children is unhinged by their laughter. Then they sit down and listen attentively as a volunteer offers some HIV prevention messages.

This particular activity is part of a UNICEF-supported programme called ‘Kicking AIDS Out’ that offers fun, healthy opportunities to build awareness of HIV and child-abuse prevention through games and sports.

“Before the volunteers started coming to our school, I didn’t know anything about AIDS,” says Betty. “Now I know quite a bit. I know how to avoid it. I know to speak out for my friends if someone is abusing them. I also just like the games we play!”

Confidence and awareness

The Kicking AIDS Out programme is run by the Mutare-Haarlem Sport Leaders – a collaboration between the cities of Mutare in Zimbabwe and Haarlem in Holland. The programme, which receives support from UNICEF and the Johan Cruyff Welfare Foundation, reaches thousands of school-age children across Zimbabwe.

Kicking AIDS Out relies heavily on its volunteers. More than 55 young people here in Mutare lend their time and energy to the project.

© UNICEF/HQ06-0451/Pirozzi
Zimbabwean boys play soccer on an outdoor field.

“We all know how good it is for our community and we enjoy it too,” says volunteer gymnastics teacher Cabby Chinamasa, 23. “We have at least 20 games and all the major sports. It’s a three-in-one success. We build HIV awareness, confidence and health.”

A forum to talk openly

On the other side of town, the Mutare-Haarlem partnership has set up a massive sports complex. Several hundred children play basketball, soccer, hockey, cricket, karate and a growing favourite – korfball (a netball sport that originated in the Netherlands).

Co-ed korfball was brought to Zimbabwe last year, encouraged by a Dutch NGO, the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation. It has proven immensely popular. There are now five clubs in Mutare, and players from the city dominated the Zimbabwe team that competed against South Africa in its inaugural international game in September.

“It’s been a huge hit with young people here,” says sport and development advisor Jeroen Stol. “There is no way of winning a game if the girls are not being taken seriously, and this has had a very positive impact on the way the girls are viewed. It builds everyone’s fitness and it provides a forum after games for young people to talk openly about HIV and prevention.”

And who knows? Perhaps young Betty Mahomva will one day lead Zimbabwe’s korfball side to victory.



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