Basketball legend Phil Jackson once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” As individuals and as a team, one of Tackle’s (TA) values is our commitment to operational excellence. One of the ways we deliver on this commitment is by building a team of individuals that are motivated and a ‘good’ fit. Thus, one of TA’s many strengths is that it is full of exceptional staff & volunteers whose fascinating lives and experiences enrich our work.
2022 marks 20 years of TA using football to inform, support, and challenge young Africans to make safer decisions and assert their sexual and reproductive health & rights (SRHR). As we celebrate, meet Mildred Mwimbe. A dedicated ZESCO United and Real Madrid supporter, Mildred is currently serving as a TA Project Officer on the USAID Controlling HIV Epidemic for Key and Underserved Populations (CHEKUP I), a five-year project designed to improve the health outcomes of Zambians by preventing new HIV infections among populations most at risk of acquiring HIV.
“I love working with young people. It has always been my passion.”
Mildred is extremely passionate about her work and dreams of continuing to serve young people and communities by becoming a Medical Licentiate practitioner one day. If you’re wondering what that is, it’s a title given to someone who has obtained a Degree in Clinical Medicine but isn’t a doctor. Unfortunately, low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global shortage of critical medical personnel like surgeons. To mitigate this, some countries undertake a ‘task sharing’ exercise recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As part of ‘task sharing’, Medical Licentiates are trained to perform procedures such as caesarean sections that were historically only carried out by doctors. Launched 20 years ago, the Medical Licentiate program in Zambia has been running successfully and has proved crucial to filling the human resource gap and meeting health care demands, particularly in rural areas.
Given the direction of her dreams and her friendly nature, it’s an amazing coincidence that the name Mildred can mean either “gentle strength” or “gentle counsellor”. With a ready smile and a listening ear, it’s Mildred’s love for interacting with people that set her on the path that eventually led her to TA. After Secondary School, Mildred worked as a volunteer football coach with another SRHR organisation for four years. Although she developed an interest in Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) during that time, her parents encouraged her to study something health related instead. Thus, in 2016, Mildred put her savings towards the pursuit of a diploma in Radiography, graduating in 2019. Thereafter, she began volunteering at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) – Zambia’s largest referral hospital – and later studied psychosocial counselling and Project Management.
By the time she saw the TA job ad in 2021, Mildred had started conducting therapeutic counselling at a smaller hospital and helping the Sister-in-Charge there interpret the sonographer’s notes. Explaining why she didn’t continue with Radiography and why TA appealed to her, Mildred says, “I started moving away from Radiography because it does not allow much interaction with patients. You don’t really get to know how the patients are doing because it is always brief. In a few minutes, maybe you just capture a shoulder and that’s it…it’s limited time to get a better idea of who the person is and where the issues are. I want to interact with people, and the Medical Licentiate allows you to interact with people. So, that’s [being able to interact with people] also why I’m here.”
Additionally, Mildred recalls that ever since her first exposure to working with adolescents and young people as a volunteer coach, she has always felt connected to such work. “When I saw the advert, I said to myself ‘This is where you come from and this is what you love.’ I love working with young people. It has always been my passion. What captured my attention about TA was the part where they bring in contraceptives, issues of pregnancies, HIV, and other challenges that we’re having in the community into the mode of delivery. If we can teach girls about that…how best females can help themselves, it would help …but also helping the boys as well as the girls helps the whole community.”
A fan of the TA methodology and approach, the three words Mildred uses to describe TA’s sessions are “EXCITING”, “INSIGHTFUL” and “CAPTIVATING”. She expands on these by explaining that there is so much interesting information shared during a session that you can’t look away or lose focus because you want to know what’s coming next. This’ also true of her favourite TA drill – ‘Digital Disrespect’ – from the Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM) manual. “It talks about how young people and adolescents misuse media… Even as much as we can use media to advertise (and do other good things) there’s also cyberbullying and posting…to bring others down.” Dealing with problems that are increasingly relevant to our times, this drill helps participants learn about the positives and negatives of social networking, and discusses the impact of posting private photos, harassing others online, and not respecting privacy. Most importantly, part of the take-home message at the end of the drill is a reminder to “…always have respect for women and girls.”
As someone who enjoys both being the student and the teacher, Mildred says she has learned a lot from the TA modules and is happy to see that participants are learning too. The biggest lessons for her have come around sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV. “Yes, I’m medical personnel, but I wasn’t focusing much on STIs. What I thought I knew, for example, about the admission of TB drugs to people living with HIV [that it cannot be done] turned out to not be true…” Luckily for her friends, Mildred is eager to share what she learns and makes sure to do so during one friend group’s monthly meetings and the other’s weekly zoom call on Tuesday evenings.
Still on the topic of STIs, before Mildred moved to take up her current post on the USAID CHEKUP I project in Ndola, one of her most memorable experiences in the field was in Lusaka’s Kanyama Compound. During community follow-ups with one of the other Project Officers who was conducting sessions, a young boy asked if someone could get STIs from oral sex. This hadn’t been covered in the initial session and prompted her to realise that “Adolescents are exposed to a lot of information and are curious about a lot of things we may overlook. Mostly we talk about penetrative sex, but they know about a lot more than that.”
Reflecting on TA’s use (and the importance) of football to engage all young people on issues of SRHR, Mildred says “Football is one sport that brings millions of people together, young and old. Football is important because it can keep young people away from bad vices and moral decay. It’s better if we have a group of young people playing soccer and they’re exposed to organisations like ours with other young people that can teach them and keep them busy.”
“Football is important because it can keep young people away from bad vices and moral decay.”
Finally, according to Mildred, what sets TA apart is its “vibe”. “My favourite thing is the TA vibe… where everyone is just so free and people are ready to jump into sessions. You don’t need to keep pushing people or raising morale because we’re all happy to be here.”