23 June 2010

IDYDC (Iringa, Tanzania)

14th May, 2010 (Iringa, Tanzania) – It’s a cool and breezy afternoon here in Iringa and after two straight days in the car from Kigali, Rwanda, we are excited to visit the Zinduka Kapetia Soka Program (Wake Up Through Soccer). Thirty boys and girls, ages 10-14, gather for a little warm-up game before moving into the HIV/AIDS awareness games. They come from the Mkwawa area here in urban Iringa twice a week to learn about HIV/AIDS through the Grassroot Soccer curriculum administered by local coaches. The games are familiar to us. They are the same as we had seen in Nairobi; a testament to the Grassroot Soccer training.

This particular group has been together for three years, and we can see that they care for one another. Today’s lesson focuses on importance of testing; emphasizing that it is the only way to determine if someone has HIV/AIDS. Also addressed are many of the myths that are floating around their community about how HIV/AIDS is contracted.

One of the girls mentions that people in her community believe that if you wear clothes of someone who is HIV positive, “you will catch it through the fabric.” The other children smile and nod in agreement. They are an enthusiastic bunch and most are active participants in the group discussion. We, in turn, wonder how this compares to their participation levels in the classroom. At the end of the four year program, they are tested on their HIV knowledge and then graduate with the hopes that they will not only make good life decisions, but also become youth leaders in their families and communities.

The Zinduka project is one of many in an organization called Iringa Development of Youth, Disabled and Children Care (IDYDC). Established in 1991, IDYDC’s first focus was on providing education, shelter, medical care, and food for orphans, street children, and disadvantaged youth. Support and drop out centers were quickly established in all seven districts of Iringa. Four vocational training schools provide children who fail or drop out of school with skills in carpentry, tailoring, masonry, batik making, gardening, beekeeping, and small farming.

IDYDC’s perpetual “what next” approach led them to create a microfinance program to provide a perfect stepping stone for the educated children and their families. It enables them to submit small business proposals and receive soft loans, putting education to work and responsibility on the shoulders of the youths themselves. The interest generated by the loans provides scholarship money for those that cannot afford to pay for secondary school education. Currently, IDYDC is developing a regional radio program. It will provide a practical method to transmit information about available support programs as well as a means to educate a large amount of people on current health issues at a very low expenditure.

IDYDC’s move to take preventative measures led to their awareness campaign that focused on HIV/AIDS, but later extended to health and sanitation, civic and voting education, alcohol and substance abuse, and family planning. This is where Grassroot Soccer and sport, mostly football and netball, is most valuable. Today they are able to reach communities through both schools and the 700 teams they formed. Coaches are trained as master peer educators, and the players become peer to peer educators in their communities. And it is the hope that the children we are spending the day with take on that role upon the conclusion of this program.

After about one hour, the children are visibly antsy…they know it’s almost time for free play, which means football time. True to their body language, within 30 seconds of the coach’s last word the group separates. The boys have Liverpool v Barcelona on one pitch while the girls are on another, standing in a circle passing the football around with their hands. It is clear they are a little more comfortable playing netball than football. We jump in to challenge the girls with a little football and they respond with shrieks of laughter and bursts of quickness as they chase the ball around the pitch. They don’t have technical skills, but they certainly have the desire and athleticism to play.

Just a short distance away the boys are intensely serious about their game, neither team wanting to defend, yet they are willing to chase any player with the ball the entire length of the pitch. When the games end, everyone is smiling. And after an unnecessary ‘thank you’ to the Kickabout team, the children leave the pitch in bunches - arms around each other.

Iringa raises some important questions about HIV/AIDS rates. The rate here has been slowly climbing since 2003. The 2007 numbers showed that this region was at 15.7% while the next highest region was Mara at 7.7%. IDYDC’s objectives are to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, address stigma related issues, and teach life skills to youth between the ages of 6-24. Ideally, as the organization achieves their goals, more people will be educated about HIV/AIDS. Is it that Iringa has the highest rate of HIV in Tanzania, or have they been more successful in educating their region such that more people have taken responsibility to get tested?

For more information on IDYDC please visit www.idydc.or.tz or email idydc42@hotmail.com.


18 June 2010

Agahozo Shalom (Rwanda)

Sometimes, no further explanation is necessary.

During our quick visit to Rwanda, we stop by Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) just outside of Kigali. There we sat down with Innocent and asked him about life at Agahozo Shalom, a residential school for children orphaned by the 1994 Genocide and HIV/AIDS.

Modeled after the Yemin Orde Youth Village, created in 1953 to care for orphans of the Holocaust, Agahozo Shalom “provides opportunities for children to study, grow, and develop into adults who have the ability and desire to become contributing members of society.” The ASYV is a self-sustaining, independent, special project of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Inc. (JDC)’s non-sectarian International Development Program.

To learn more, visit Agahozo Shalom Youth Village at http://www.agahozo-shalom.org/.