I haven’t been able to update the blog at all because our internet went down on Thursday afternoon and remained down until yesterday (Monday) afternoon. As I write it’s down again, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll be back before the end of work today.
We had our first game for Bantu on Saturday (my first, Frisch’s third), and we won 2-1. The team played well in the first half to take a 2-0 lead into half time but we let the other team claw their way back into the game a bit in the second half and they made it 2-1 with about 15 minutes to go. They didn’t threaten too much for the rest of the game but we still didn’t have the same level of play as we’d had in the first half because they were flying around, desperate for a 2nd goal. We head to Hwange this weekend for a match on Saturday so we’re leaving Friday night with the team to stay over because it’s over 200mi northwest of here, near Vic Falls. We might try to stay an extra night to check out a game preserve up there before returning to Bulawayo on our own on Sunday.
After our game Saturday we went to Luveve, a suburb of Bulwayo, to check out a Zim Premier League match between FC Platinum and Chicken Inn. The teams are named after their sponsors, so Chicken Inn is sponsored by a local fast food restaurant and FC Platinum is owned by a platinum mine (yes, seriously) up near Harare. Understandably, FC Platinum is the wealthiest team in the league so they buy all the best players (locals say they’re the Real Madrid of the Zimbabwean premier league). We drove 20 minutes outside Bulawayo to reach the stadium and when we parked we found the line for tickets was very long. We were with Shep, Wonder, Dube, Nkeke, and Msasa, and the guys decided we should try to sneak in through the gate rather than wait in line. Shep and Dube managed to squeeze through but the rest of us were driven back by an angry Zimbabwean police officer with riot shield and baton. He was swinging the baton furiously and we had to jump out the way. It was pretty wild but effective for clearing the gate so they could let another car through without any spectators sneaking in.
Since Shep was through he went to the backside of the ticket booth inside the fence, bought 5 tickets, and passed them through the fence. We presented these at the same gate and held onto each other as a mass of people pressed through when the gate opened again, ducking to avoid the police officer’s baton. Once inside the stadium I quickly realized how crazy Zimbabweans are about their soccer. Stadium is a relative term. The seats were built of concrete over 25-foot high berms that enclosed the field. There was a 10-foot fence surrounding the field and fences with barbed wire to separate supporters for different teams. Platinum had a huge group of supporters that the mine had paid to bus down on 3 big coach buses. The score ended with a 1-1 tie but when each team scored, its supporters ran through the stands blowing vuvuzelas and screaming. Nearly all were dressed in their team’s colors and they shouted insults at each other in Ndebele or Shona through fences separating different seating sections. The game itself was not the best display for the premier league. Too many fouls and resulting stoppages killed the flow of the game and made it a pretty boring one. Both teams, but especially Platinum, played a real kick-and-run style. It would be interesting to see a match between two top teams like Highlanders or Caps Utd because the level would probably be better.
When we returned to our neighborhood we headed to the Kudu Bar for a braai. A braai is an outdoor grilling spot where the business provides the meat, the grill, and the sadza and you cook your own meat. We selected our raw meat – pork, beef, and sausage – at the bar and took it outside to the grills. Wonder and Nkeke grilled the meat to perfection and we had an awesome meal with sadza, meat, and tomatoes and onions. After the meal we went into Bulawayo to catch the Liverpool match at Wonder’s favorite bar, La Gondola. It was our first time out in the city (again, city is a relative term), and the social life revolves around soccer. All Zimbabweans seem to have an EPL team they support passionately and the result is a fun game atmosphere every time.
Sunday we had some work to do so we took it easy in the morning but in the afternoon Doc came by to pick us up. He took us to his house to watch ManU demolish Arsenal and to “do some work” on our proposal. His wife Linda cooked a delicious meal and it was great to hang out with our boss in his own home for the first time. His family was wonderful and incredibly welcoming. We actually did get some work done on our proposal and set ourselves to finish it up and submit the next day.
This proposal for the VCT is our first and it’s for our most important project for the year – too bad we didn’t have one proposal to practice on! It will be a gradual process gaining support from multiple donors as we scale up VCT in Bulawayo this year. I wrote a little about it before, but VCT stands for Voluntary Counseling and Testing, and GRS has successfully combined the VCT model with soccer events in Zambia over the last year or so. Our job in our new department under Doc (The department is Health and Local Relations; I am the Health and Research intern, Ale is the Marketing and Business Development Intern) will be to scale up the GRS VCT model in Zimbabwe.
The GRS VCT model essentially links the normal GRS prevention curriculum to testing and treatment services by holding a soccer tournament at program graduation. GRS brings in community partners to provide HIV testing and other health services at the tournament and make a whole-day community event out of it, with entertainment, soccer games, and workshops. Testing takes place in tents near the field and teams are awarded extra points for testing. Data from Zambia suggest that 60% of GRS curriculum graduates get tested for HIV at these events, which is a great rate because at large in Sub-Saharan Africa it was estimated that only 14% of men and 17% of women were tested and knew their HIV status between 2005-2009. If we can use soccer as a hook and link testing to the prevention curriculum we can complete the loop from education to treatment and more effectively prevent new infections. Preventing new infections is a two-fold process. The first part involves treatment for prevention: by identifying HIV-positive individuals and linking them to treatment and counseling we can not only help them live longer lives but also reduce their chances of passing the virus on to others (ARVs [anti-retroviral medications] lower an individual’s viral load and make them less infectious). The second component involves keeping the HIV-negative individuals negative by connecting them with the health resources they need to protect themselves (family planning, PMTCT [Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission], maternal health, and others).
The GRS VCT events allow us to address prevention on both fronts by bringing testing and other health services to the communities around Bulawayo and by encouraging GRS graduates to get HIV tested. GRS coaches are trained to do home visits to deliver test results and follow up with HIV-positive individuals through their treatment regimen. We’re calling the Zim VCT program “Linking for Life” and we’ll be linking a new GRS curriculum, Generation SKILLZ, with our VCT tournaments in the hopes of testing nearly 1000 youth for HIV during the next year alone. It’s exciting stuff because we’ve seen the model work very well in Zambia and now we have the chance to help get it up and running in Zimbabwe. We had no internet last Friday so we asked for an extension on the proposal and worked all day yesterday to finish and submit by the end of the day. We’re asking for $15,000 for the first quarter alone from our international partner working out of Bulawayo so let’s hope they liked our proposal!
Overall it’s been a busy first week or so in Africa and though I miss home, we’ve got a lot going on between our work for GRS and training for Bantu. Thank you again to everyone who has supported my work here. GRS is going to have a tangible impact on HIV transmission and treatment in Bulawayo this year. Thank you for supporting my efforts to be a part of making a difference here.