One of the strengths of TackleAfrica’s methodology is what we call the multiplier effect. Our staff trainers don’t work directly with players and young people – we leave that up to the football coaches. What we do however, is bring coaches together to train them to pass on messages and information about HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). With that set up, just one TackleAfrica trainer can train twenty coaches, who can then go out and coach up to five hundred young people! And those young people rarely keep quiet about what they’ve learned. Our discussions with coaches and players show that each player can speak to up to four other people in their family and community about what they’ve learnt at a TackleAfrica session, and so the effect of that one training is multiplied even further.
We know that football coaches play a pivotal role in the life of a young player and, as such, are uniquely and perfectly placed to provide information and services on the pitch. Football coaches know their communities deeply, speak the same language, and know the local context with all its needs and strengths. Players love football, and can spend hours on a football pitch with their coach, sometimes seeing them more than their own families on any given day. There is a unique bond that develops between young players who look up to their coaches and want to emulate them. It is not unusual for personal problems to be confided to a coach, particularly if those problems concern sexual relationships that families might not approve of. The team aspect and team-mates also provide a natural support network for young people seeking to cope with the challenges that adolescence and young life brings, and the discussion points that the coach raises during training is again multiplied as players continue to debate and confide even off the field at their schools and clubs.
A great example of the multiplier effect is Coach Lorrine, whom we know primarily from Nairobi, Kenya and the DREAMS-IC programme, funded by PEPFAR and managed by JSI. Lorrine is one of the superb coaches at Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) in Nairobi, trained to deliver football sessions to her players with messaging about HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) and Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC). HTC and VMMC are essential tools in the fight against HIV, lowering risk of transmission and helping people make safer, more informed decisions about sex.
However, Lorrine didn’t grow up in Nairobi. She actually hails from Tigoi, near Kisumu in the extreme west of Kenya near Lake Victoria. Tigoi and the surrounding region is one of the hardest hit areas in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa for HIV with prevalence of up to 27%. It is sobering to think one in every four people you meet in Tigoi is living with HIV. On a recent trip home, Lorrine met with teachers and students at her old school and knew that her TackleAfrica training could be useful. Players wanted to be coached, coaches wanted to be trained, and the community wanted HIV and other sexual health issues addressed. Lorrine told us she desperately wants young people in Tigoi to understand the risks of unprotected sex, and wants them to have access to services that are more readily available to her Nairobi players under the DREAMS-IC programme, such as condom distributions, HIV testing, and VMMC.
While in Tigoi, Lorrine ran two TackleAfrica sessions, delivering Your Choice To Run and Supporting Runs to excited young men, aged between 16 and 25. Both sessions coach “running with the ball”, an essential technique needed for quick transitions, and beating opponents when under pressure. In the HIV messaging in these drills, both sessions look at the importance of testing for HIV and knowing your status. Lorrine said “the players are really excited about the knowledge, and we talked more about the TackleAfrica programme. The young people here, they really need the knowledge that we have in Nairobi. You heard them talking, they need even the basic knowledge and services to prevent HIV. We’re deeply grateful and hope people here get the best and proper knowledge to stay safe.”
Lorrine is now back in Nairobi with her regular team, but says when she returns to Tigoi in a few weeks’ time, she’ll again run sessions she’s learnt at MYSA on the DREAMS-IC programme that will help her community stay safe from HIV. But she can’t fight this alone, and we hope in the future there’ll be more coaches like Lorrine in Tigoi, multiplying TackleAfrica’s messages once again.