Africa Goal Scores with Live World Cup Broadcasts and HIV Prevention Talks
By Chael Needle – Managing Editor of A&U.
It may be hard to understand if you live in the United States, but the FIFA World Cup is a sporting event so intense that fans’ vocal chords are probably happy that the month-long soccer tournament takes place only every four years.
A group of dedicated advocates has tapped into the excitement around the World Cup, and soccer in general, and devised a nonprofit campaign to raise HIV prevention awareness in Southern Africa, a region with the highest prevalence of AIDS in the world.
Africa Goal was born of friendship and collegiality when its creators, who knew each other from working and living in Kenya before scattering to other pursuits, reunited four years ago in London for a get-together. “Some of us were living in London at the time and others were passing through. We were all studying at the time and getting excited about the summer break,” says Mary Leakey of Africa Goal.
They began to kick around an idea “to travel through Africa showing the World Cup soccer matches and using them as a platform for HIV information dissemination,” she says about the campaign’s organic evolution. Having either grown up in Africa or having lived there, they know what World Cup fever is all about, “even if there is no access to soccer balls or to broadcast matches,” notes Leakey, who works as a senior project officer at Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS). “The World Cup seemed like such a great way to engage people in HIV discourse.”
In 2006, Africa Goal took the ultimate road trip, complete with car-eating mud puddles, tire changes, but also pick-up games of soccer with the people they met and positive responses to prevention messages. Comprised of members whose experience ranges from media to development, the team traveled throughout Southern Africa, stopping each day to prep for the afternoon and early evening matches. Setting up a projector, retractable screen, dish, speakers and other tech needed to link up to Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), Africa Goal showed free-of-charge live broadcasts of World Cup Soccer matches in villages, where fans’ only access to soccer is often radio or print news reports. The team also used the opportunity to present videos, supplied by UNAIDS and sometimes local NGOs, to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS as a sort of pre-show. Africa Goal partnered with NGOs based in the community whenever possible, inviting their experts to lead discussions in the newly created communal event. The 2006 campaign was successful so Africa Goal is going out on the road again this year.
“No sport draws the crowds, excitement, and attention in Africa like soccer does—it’s a crowd-puller. And the majority of the audience correlates with the population sector most at risk for HIV infection (people aged fifteen to forty-nine years),” says Leakey about why soccer and HIV education make for a good fit. “Also a lot of men are drawn to the matches, so it is a great way to reach these traditionally hard-to-reach groups.
“More than that though, soccer has a fantastic way of uniting people, connecting people, and giving people a sense of common purpose, and it is this we really need to harness in the fight against HIV. Soccer also defies traditional cultural barriers; people from all walks of life, all ages, men, women, boys and girls can enjoy a soccer match together. By using the platform created by soccer we can take advantage of the unique communication forum that it affords and reach people on a new level, while also encouraging discussion among the audience, which may not happen in day-to-day circumstances.”
Most of the 2006 team members are returning. Again, Africa Goal will follow a route that has been nicknamed the “AIDS Highway,” whose high volume of traffic has increased trade, transport, and transactional sex, and along which the prevalence of HIV is high. This year, the team will travel through Eastern and Southern Africa, starting in Nairobi, Kenya, in time for the June 11 kickoff, and ending in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the final on July 11, with stops in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland.
The 2006 trip was a learning experience for Africa Goal and this time some changes will be made.
On the technology front, for instance, Africa Goal will be adding a satellite locator to its bag of tricks. Says Leakey: “This will hopefully make it a bit easier to find the DSTV signal than it was last time—when all we had was a compass!”
She continues: “This time around we have been in communication with local partners long before arriving at the match locations so that we can plan with them. We feel the input of local partners is vital to ensuring the relevance of the information shared, as well as the sustainability of the intervention. In 2006, we partnered with local organizations but most of the planning with them was done on the ground when we arrived at a location. This time, we have the advantage of knowing a lot of the partners and also having a better idea of who is doing what, and where, so that we can link with them more easily in advance.
“We are also planning a shorter overall trip so that the daily distances to be travelled are not so long—this is important because we have made arrangements to meet partners along the way so we need to allow time for border delays, breakdowns, punctures, etc., while still being able to get there on time. Having said that, with this kind of project, you really can’t plan for every eventuality, but you can turn every situation into a positive experience.”
Case in point: a village near Siavonga, Zambia, on the shores of Lake Kariba, 2006. A wrong turn made the Africa Goal team lose their way. The Ghana vs. Brazil match was starting in an hour, and the team did not have enough time to make it to their intended destination. They stopped at a village, “talked to the Chief and the nurse at the local clinic, and arranged with them to hold the match in the village square,” says Leakey. “The nurse facilitated a discussion around HIV before the match, focusing on the need for everyone to know their status, among other things. The match was really well attended. We had over 200 people there as everyone in the community had heard that the World Cup match was being shown and we had a very lively and participatory discussion about HIV—men, women, old and young people all joined in and debated certain cultural practices that increase risk and shared ideas on what needed to be done to reduce risk of new HIV infections in the community.”
The game was starting during the discussion so they called a time-out until the break. “We all watched the first half with enthusiasm—cheering every goal attempt, and every save, irrespective of which team was ahead. At half time, the HIV discussions continued before we watched the last half of the match, which ended up with Brazil winning 3–0,” says Leakey, who cheers for South Africa’s team. After the match, some audience members broached the idea of arranging a testing day at the clinic and it garnered enthusiastic support from the nurse, other audience members, and the Chief, who offered to be first in line.
Africa Goal followed up the next week with the nurse, who reported that 100 people had lined up by 7 a.m. to get tested. The Chief was first in line. The nurse “really appreciated the conducive environment that was created through the Africa Goal event, which enabled open discussion and also the feeling of unity that was generated, which helped everyone to realize that it was their combined responsibility to reduce HIV infection in the community.”
Partnering with community-based NGOs “helps to ensure our relevance to the particular communities that we will be working in,” notes Leakey. “We also feel that it is important for sustainability—so that people who come to see the matches relate the HIV information disseminated to our local partners and can more easily access further information or services if they require.” Africa Goal is respectful of and strives for cultural sensitivity, which, the nonprofit believes, is essential for effective messaging. The team members rely on the local NGOs for guidance, and videos shown are language-specific and culturally appropriate for each stop.
Of course, soccer is a universal language. Africa Goal builds on this by distributing soccer-themed prevention information packages. And this year Africa Goal is formalizing a program called Trading Footballs that first came about in 2006. “Regularly, we would stop to play a roadside soccer match along the way—to break up the journey—and were struck by how different the handcrafted balls were in each of the areas we visited. Since they are made out of whatever materials are at hand, the balls really do tell a story or their own. They are a true celebration of ‘the beautiful game’ and also of the innovation that is such an inspiring part of what we all love about Africa—there is always a solution, even if the ‘right’ tools are not available,” Leakey analogizes. The balls are indeed made with whatever is at hand—discarded plastic bags, string, wool, grass, and rubber, among other materials.
During the initial trip, “we had carried some factory-made soccer balls with us and, after one match, one of the children initiated exchanging his hand crafted ball for the factory made one.”
That simple trade inflated the new program. In all, 300 handcrafted balls were collected across nine countries. Doubling as art and promotion, the traded-in balls have been and continue to be exhibited at several galleries. During this trip, Africa Goal will document the stories behind each homemade soccer ball collected and the donated factory-stitched balls exchanged will each bear an imprinted HIV prevention message.
Also new this year are GOAL condoms. “The GOAL condom idea has been a great passion of mine for a long time now and is something that I really think could have a big impact on promoting safer sexual practices in the region,” says Leakey. “By producing high-quality condoms and marketing them for the specific audience in mind, with packaging and advertising that will appeal to the target audience, there is great scope for scaling up condom use; condoms still have a vital role to play in HIV prevention. I felt that launching a brand of condoms in line with the World Cup would be a great way to renew enthusiasm about condom use.” The branding and marketing strategy is smart and includes print ads that pun off of soccer terms and equipment: protection, gloves, scoring, studs. The tagline “Have you got a Goal?” and round packaging shaped like a soccer ball strives to reverse rampant negative attitudes toward condom use.
While a lack of funding did not allow Africa Goal to put condoms on shelves in time for the World Cup, Leakey is not giving up on the idea. “Soccer mania will be around long after the World Cup final and I think we can still piggyback on that to reinvigorate condom promotion. I’m also working on a number of other concepts for market-appropriate and more appealing condoms so I hope that, in the not too distant future, we will be seeing GOAL or something similar available here. Maybe someone reading this will see the potential of GOAL condoms and we’ll be seeing them on the shelves even sooner!”
Africa Goal has no problem sending prevention into overtime. “Growing up in rural Kenya, you couldn’t help but be affected by the impact of HIV, which was particularly visible given the small size of the community,” says Leakey about her commitment to AIDS. “A lot of people that I knew within the community were affected. I always felt that there was more that could be done, new ways to reach people with information and new and innovative ways to respond to the epidemic. I have worked with a number of different organizations and on a number of different projects and, although it can be tough, I get a lot of satisfaction out of the work.”
Africa Goal is thankful for its sponsors, among them the Government of Canada, SAfAIDS, and PSI Zimbabwe. For anyone interested in finding out more information about the project or GOAL condoms, or contacting Africa Goal, log on to www.africagoal.com. The Web site will also be updated throughout the campaign with news, events, and stories about the project.