Using Football to Kick About a Message on AIDS

Deradjat Ginandjar Koesmayadi by Bethan Mobey

Employing sport to communicate HIV messages isn’t new, but one initiative aims to go further – imparting skills for planning, evaluating and funding a football-based HIV campaign

In 11 years, Deradjat Ginanjar Koesmayad has gone from a hopeless, homeless, thieving HIV-positive drug addito a respected community mobiliser and adviser to his country’s government. It is a transformation Ginan – as he is more commonly called – attributes, in no small measure, to an unusual quarter.

“Football is one of the things that have helped me to find myself,” says Ginan, 30, from Bandung in Indonesia. “Many people think of football as a physical exercise, but I think if you make it, football can mean so much more to society, for instance in terms of communicating information about HIV.”

Ginan leads Rumah Cemara, a community-based organisation for people living with HIV and drug users. Since 2006, Rumah has been using football to keep its members and clients fit and healthy, but also to spread information about preventing and managing HIV infection and overcoming stigma.

“We usually invite other football teams and, after a match, we show them a film in which we disclose our HIV status,” says Ginan, whose football idols include Paul Gascoigne and Diego Maradona. “At first many are shocked that the people they have just been playing with have HIV. But one way to test if they have overcome the stigma is to invite them again.”

Ginan estimates that out of 50 teams they played, only three ducked a rematch.

Last week, Ginan was in the UK, where he and 17 other social workers from 12 developing countries received specialised training on how to integrate football and programmes on HIV and Aids. The training is part of Football Fighting Back Against HIV initiative, arranged by two Brighton-based organisations – Albion in the Community (AITC, an arm of the English Championship league football club Brighton and Hove Albion), and the International HIV/Aids Alliance (IAA).

The initiative is the brainchild of Jacob Naish, AITC’s head of community cohesion, and IAA’s associate director Sam McPherson, who profess to share a passion for football and for supporting people with HIV and Aids. Brighton is perhaps an appropriate setting for an event that combines the two – it has among the highest HIV prevalence rates in the UK.

McPherson says prevention of HIV remains critical, pointing out that for every person getting started on antiretroviral medication, two others get infected. This calls for creative solutions to the problem, and these social workers are crucial in meeting this need.

Despite coming from countries as diverse as Haiti, Ukraine, Lesotho, India and Nigeria, the group displays an intense team spirit as they pose for photos under the drizzle in Albion’s new white-and-blue Amex stadium, and as they sing Shakira’s Waka Waka, from last year’s football World Cup in South Africa. For Naish, such gelling is a good sign, for participants are expected to share experiences and learn lessons to take back to their countries.

Although using football to communicate HIV messages is no novel concept, Naish says this initiative aims to go further, by imparting skills for planning, evaluating, monitoring and funding a sport-based HIV campaign. Also aimed at making sport-induced social change more sustainable, the initiative will challenge the notion, among some in the development community, that football is development-light.

“People have different methods of doing things and we cannot replace them,” says Naish. “But we will seek to add ability, capacity and skill to what they do.” On returning to their countries, participants will be expected to think of how to apply the lessons they have learned and make proposals to the Brighton organisations to consider funding.

Ginan tells me he is particularly excited about the training sessions with Albion’s coaching staff. “I want to learn, for instance, how to conduct an interesting coaching session so that people do not get bored, and how to reduce conflict,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kwinji Sibanda, a curriculum development and training officer with Grassroot Soccer, an organisation in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, says she is “really keen to learn more about integrating life-skills into football coaching”. “I know what I do, but I want to see how they do it elsewhere.”

Ginan, who played at last month’s Homeless World Cup in France, emphasises the need to link a football to other areas of life. “Football has always been benefiting from the people – you see it now has a lot of money,” he says. “Now it is time for football to give something back to society.”

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