Africa Goal 2018 Brings Soccer & HIV Awareness to Remote Villages from Nairobi to Kakuma
Living in Astoria, Queens County, the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S., with over a million immigrants living within its bounds, it’s easy to understand how popular soccer is around the world during the FIFA World Cup. Open-air restaurants and pubs draw crowds to their multiple big-screen displays of the Beautiful Game. Children in the park dribble balls around, reliving plays by the swells of the East River. Fans drive around in their cars, honking their horns and flying flags outside their windows every time their team wins a match.
It is this fervor that Africa Goal seeks to tap into as the initiative raises awareness about HIV/AIDS and connects communities to testing and care services across Eastern and Southern Africa. The all-volunteer team members of Africa Goal, dedicated experts in the fields of HIV services, health, community partnering, technology, and travel, journey to towns and villages, and set up big-screen broadcasts of World Cup games. The goal is to reach individuals and communties at risk for HIV acquisition and in areas of highest HIV prevalance, creating a fun and judgment-free space with the help of local health organizations and initiatives expert in HIV service provision. The fan base for soccer aligns with the individuals most at risk for HIV and sometimes the hardest to reach via established interventions: individuals from ages fifteen to forty-nine, and in particular men.
The initiative engages communities in activities beyond World Cup viewing, such as discussions, drama presentations, informational film/video screenings, HIV-related quizzes and Q&As, testimonials by people living with HIV, condom distribution, and on-site voluntary HIV counseling and testing (with an emphasis on couple’s testing) as well as on-site medical male circumcision. The key issues that Africa Goal seeks to address are: HIV prevention and treatment; the importance of knowing one’s status; prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV; gender based violence and inequality; stigma and discrimination; sexual diversity and sexual minorities; most at risk populations; and the promotion of active male engagement and participation in health and parenting issues.
This year, Africa Goal is driving from Nairobi to Kakuma, via Western Kenya and Turkana, and stopping off at some of the more remote locations, seeking to target the most in need and where access to following World Cup matches is limited.
Starting in 2006, and now in its fourth tour, Africa Goal checked in with A&U to talk about what’s new. Via email, I spoke with Project Coordinator Mary Leakey, a member of 2006, 2010 and 2014 teams, who is currently based in Nairobi and works as a development consultant for a number of health organizations.
Chael Needle: Where are you now?
Mary Leakey: We are currently in Mfangano which is an island in Lake Victoria with a large population of fishermen and women. The fishing villages around Lake Victoria typically have very high HIV prevalence due to the sex trade that has established around the fishing trade…women who depend on fish from the fishermen, which they sell in the market, are forced to have sex with the fishermen before they can buy fish, or being offered cheaper fish if they have sex with them… They are also often forced not to use condoms. We have an event here in a couple of hours.
What changes have you seen from the start in terms of receptiveness of communities?
One of the main innovations of the Africa Goal project is to deliver HIV information and services in a non-stigmatizing environment. Our partners know the local communities, and tailor the health-related activities at the events accordingly. One of the things that has changed since we started the project in 2006 has been how accepting communities are of having HIV testing services on-site during the events. This has now become the norm for the project; all the 2018 Africa Goal events will have free on-site HIV testing services. We can also see this in the increase in the uptake of the services—it is really positive to see how enthusiastically people receive the HIV testing services. Overall we can say that compared to 2006, there seems to be less stigma associated with HIV, discussing HIV and having HIV testing, which is a very positive trend.
We are also happy to be returning to a few of the same communities this year, in particular, in Sotik and Mbita, where we have had events during every Africa Goal project. Having developed a good working relationship with the partners working in these communities, we are able to support events which mobilize the community for a day of activities rather than just for the match. The communities are also easier to mobilise, already knowing the Africa Goal project.
Africa Goal works to ensure that HIV materials are culturally appropriate and speak to local contexts. How has Africa Goal tailored its tactics over the years as you have learned what works better?
We are always trying to improve the project, its reach and impact. One of the most crucial things for us has been to work with local health organizations. We have had some amazing partners over the years and have been keen to continue those partnerships and work with the same organizations wherever possible. This year, we are delighted to be working again with Population Services Kenya (PS-Kenya), this time as the main partner organization, for the majority of the events. Working with one of the leading public organizations in the country has been really valuable.
One big difference from previous years is that the project events will all take place in Kenya. We remain committed to the pan-African objective of the project, but decided that working with one main partner and focusing on remote locations in Kenya will take the project to people perhaps in most need. While the project route has always sought to reach key communities for health awareness and services, this time we have designed the route to prioritize villages and towns around Lake Victoria and Turkana. There is also a personal side to this choice, [as] we are travelling for the first time with our one and a half year-old son, and are all a little older, so driving shorter distances each day will do us all well!
We are making sure we continue the most successful aspects of the project. For example, targeted and World Cup-themed HIV information, education and communication (IEC) materials are always very popular, and PS-Kenya have supported the project to develop these again. We will continue to organise quizzes before the matches begin and during half-time; we have found they build the energy, excitement and ambiance at the events while meeting some of the health objectives. We are also continuing our trading footballs scheme, exchanging footballs made of plastic bags, string, rubber, etc., [up-cycled and handcrafted in these communties] with the “unpoppable” One World Futbols.
For more information and to learn how to support Africa Goal, log on to: www.africagoal.com.
Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.