Alina loves soccer. “It is my favorite sport. When you play football, you have to learn how to communicate with your team and handle problems,” says the 19 year old from Namibia. “These skills are also important in life.”
Like many young women, Alina lives in a part of the world where rates of HIV transmission are high, but conversation and knowledge about the disease are low. “In many homes, children are not even allowed to talk about HIV/AIDS, so they have little knowledge about the disease and how to protect themselves. We want to change that, and soccer is serving as an agent for change,” says George Ekandjo, the National Program Coordinator for Skillz Namibia.
Girlz Got Skillz Summit Provides Life-changing HIV Education
In April 2010, three organizations worked together to launch a five-day soccer summit in Cape Town for girls ages 14 to 19. Grassroot Soccer, the Academy for Educational Development and Johnson & Johnson brought together more than 40 girls from Namibia, South Africa and the United States for Girlz Got Skillz: A Young Women’s Summit on Health, Leadership & Empowerment. The summit used the girls’ love of soccer to open up dialogue about HIV, promote healthy decision-making, and build confidence and self-esteem among participants.
“The workshops were inspirational. The activities were educational and fun. The friends I met at the summit will always be close to my heart,” says Stacey Naris, a professional soccer player from Namibia who served as one of the mentors and coaches to the girls. “Now, I am inspired to share what I learned with my teammates and community.”
The week-long program is part of a larger initiative in Namibia that Johnson & Johnson has been involved in for the past three years. This program is designed for both boys and girls, and it runs the course of a three-month soccer season. Over the past three years, the program has used interactive learning to reach around 17,000 students.
Bringing Together Girls from Around the World
The summit held in Cape Town united different nationalities for a common purpose: to help young people prevent HIV and make healthy life choices. The Namibian girls came from the country’s northern regions; the South Africans came from the Cape Flats area of Cape Town; and the American girls were part of the Washington, D.C. and North Carolina chapters of Goals for Girls, an international initiative of girls helping girls through the game of soccer.
For Alina, the experience was unforgettable and life-changing. “I learned things I never knew before…about how to make decisions and how to protect myself. I now know that if something is not right, there are people I can ask for help. Because of the summit, I’m an even better soccer player and my life is better.”