Reza Samad-Using The Power of soccer to fight HIV/AIDS


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Vijana Amani Pamoja uses soccer to empower young people to make positive, healthy decisions in the areas of HIV/AIDS, TB, anti-corruption and female empowerment

Nairobi, Kenya
United Kingdom

SKILLZ Kenya is a football-based curriculum that contains a series of activities that allow youth to explore issues related to HIV/AIDS and gain skills necessary to lead healthy lives. The curriculum requires active participation and creates a safe, team-based environment in which participants can comfortably share their feelings, beliefs, and ideas about HIV/AIDS. Youth learn skills to avoid high-risk behaviours (i.e., multiple concurrent partners, cross generational sex, avoiding drugs and alcohol, using family planning methods), to reduce the stigma currently associated with living with HIV/AIDS, to address and think critically about gender norms and expectations. Participants also learn how to access and have opportunities to engage local health support services (family planning, VMMC, ART, etc.) bridging the gap between prevention and staying healthy.

Using the power of soccer, VAP trains local role models as community change agents. These trained “Coaches” educate youth from their very own neighbourhoods, and inspire them to avoid risks and lead productive and healthy lives. The SKILLZ Program creates simple, but powerful connections between football and life, and helps young people take small steps to achieve their goals, stay strong when faced with challenges, and protect themselves and others from HIV and AIDS.

Numerous independent evaluations have proven that SKILLZ interventions are highly effective at building participants’ knowledge and understanding of high-risk behaviours, changing harmful attitudes, as well as adopting health-seeking behaviours including increased uptake of health and psychosocial support services. Youth who complete the SKILLZ Kenya program will be empowered – and support – to make healthy decisions and begin changing their behaviours.

AIDS continues to be one of the greatest social challenges in Sub Saharan Africa. While HIV incidence is declining in the region, there were still nearly 2 million new HIV infections in 2011 (UNAIDS). Youth are particularly vulnerable to AIDS – nearly 50% of new infections occur among young people aged 15-24. Although youth are those hardest hit by AIDS, they are also the greatest force for change. A recent UNICEF reports indicates that young people are much more likely to adopt and maintain safe behaviours hiving them the opportunity to lead the fight against AIDS and mobilize an HIV-free generation.

VAP aims to change the behaviours of Kenyan youth, with the ultimate goal of a reduced HIV infection rate in Kenya. Through the SKILLZ Kenya curriculum, youth learn how to avoid high-risk behaviours (i.e., multiple concurrent partners, cross generational sex, avoiding drugs and alcohol, using family planning methods), how to reduce the stigma currently associated with living with HIV/AIDS, how to address and think critically about gender norms and expectations, and how to access local health support services (family planning, VMMC, ART, etc.).

Anticipated longer term behavioural changes among both Coaches and youth participants in VAP’s SKILLZ Kenya program include: increased self-esteem, increased self-efficacy to delay sex, increased self-efficacy to use condoms and to avoid multiple partners and older partners, increased communication about HIV and sex, increased gender equitable norms, decision making skills, and increased ability to resist peer pressure.

Built by the community, for the community, VAP is deeply rooted in Nairobi. Fully Kenyan run since founding in 2000, the VAP team is truly integrated in to the communities they serve and highly respected as community role models. The proposed SKILLZ program expands the capacity of these exceptionally motivated local staff, and builds the capacity of local volunteers as HIV experts.

While the main responsibility of the SKILLZ Coach is to work with a select number of youth throughout the program, these individuals transfer knowledge to their communities well beyond just the SKILLZ activities. Seen as local experts, they are often sought out and consulted by a myriad of community members curious for more information, support or referrals. Moreover, the youth participants of the SKILLZ program are empowered as community change agents, and regularly engage in peer education, spreading the knowledge they’ve gained and ultimately amplifying project impact.

Working together with curious, eager and motivated youth from their own backyards, the VAP team has already, and will continue to, see change at the grassroot level in the schools, communities, and slums they work it. Empowered with knowledge, and inspired to bring about change, the impact of the SKILLZ program will be felt long after the activities end.



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