Soccer is a sport loved by many around the world. In Africa, it is the most popular game on the continent, with the passion shared amongst all of its countries. But, what if, besides being a contributor of entertainment and active lifestyle, it could also help to deliver HIV, sexual and reproductive health rights and empowerment education to young people? Through the work of TackleAfrica, this very such notion has been happening in many African countries since 2002.
According to Aids.gov, at the end of 2015, around 36.7 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Of those alarming numbers, 1.8 million were children under the age of 15 years old, and the majority living in low to middle-income countries, most notably in Sub-Saharan-Africa.
TackleAfrica is a UK-based non-governmental organization founded by a group of young British entrepreneurs that all lived in Africa during a certain period of their lives. TackleAfrica currently has projects in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Their partnerships with local organizations utilize the love and popularity of soccer in the continent to spread health messages, that are given by trained African football coaches, peer educators, and schoolteachers.
The coaches receive regular training and total support, which enables their educational messaging to be accurate and up to date. Since HIV continues to be the biggest killer of adolescents in Africa, the focus is on the disease, but the coaches also teach a range of related sexual reproductive health rights messages such as contraception, family planning, relationships and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation and child marriage. "The idea is to provide all the skills, support, access and understanding required for young people to increase their resilience to risk, and make safer, more informed decisions," said Tom Colborne, Head of Business Development for TackleAfrica.
Often, kids and teenagers feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive issues with their family or teachers. For these reasons, the coach's character is so important. The selected individual works as a role model and mentor, offering a safe space for discussion. "A good football coach can develop this kind of relationship with young people by developing their football skills and providing fun and interesting sessions," Colborne said. "We use that platform to train coaches on how to include interactive information about HIV and sexual health into football drills, and lead discussions about key issues."
Photographer Kenya-Jade Pinto visited Uganda to photograph the work of the organization. She says that once there, she could really understand the importance of the sport in Africa, and how the work of TackleAfrica is effective. "I learned the impact of football in Uganda and I didn't have to venture far to find a pitch or a football," Pinto said. "They're everywhere. And sure, some are properly manicured with the requisite goalposts and grass, but my favorite ones are tucked behind alleyways where mums are hanging their washing and where only toothy smiles can interrupt childhood chatter. These are the football pitches that shape the lives of children and adolescents in Uganda."
The organization works with an impressive number of about 12,000 young people each year. As an example, "...In a recent project in Nairobi, over 1,000 young people engaged with pitchside HIV testing and counselling sessions in a year. In Kilifi in Western Kenya, 77% of girls were able to name a local place to access contraception after taking part in TackleAfrica sessions compared to just 32% beforehand," explained Colborne. "We measure increases in things like young people engaging in HIV testing and counselling, and comprehensive knowledge of HIV prevention as well as some softer outcomes like confidence, leadership and life skills, which all combine to help protect young people from HIV."
Colborne explains that HIV has dropped dramatically on the global agenda recently, but recent cuts to family planning aid will make things harder for women in the developing world. "TackleAfrica continues to grow steadily, but we always need to keep demonstrating the impact and importance of our work and find the right partners to make the biggest difference," he said.
Seeing the efficiency of their work with young people is what keeps the staff motivated to go on. "Being part of a small but growing and innovative organization means the work is varied, challenging and ever evolving," Colborne said. "Plus, we all love football!"
To know more about TackleAfrica and support the institution, please click here.