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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sadza, Soccer, and VCTs (oh, and power outages)

The last few days have been busy. Yesterday Ale and I went to breakfast with Methembe, Executive Director of GRS Zimbabwe, Doc, team doctor for Bantu and second in charge at GRS here, and Prim, who manages the finances. Breakfast was great and though we began the morning discussing our roles in the organization and how our internships will be structured, talk later turned to bashing each others' Premier League teams, of course. GRS Zimbabwe is at an exciting juncture; we have recently received grants from Barclay's Bank, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Comic Relief, and a few other international organizations. The staff here in Bulawayo has been working hard to hire new coaches as the programs in Bulawayo expand, and they have increased their numbers from around 30 trained coaches to over 100, and we now hiring and training 70 more.
- I may be interrupted here because as I was writing the power went out and wireless internet failed; it appears we've run out of gas for the backup generator. Our neighborhood in Bulawayo has some real issues with electricity. The guard at our lodge, Mattias, says that Zimbabwe has a power shortage and that within the city we must share with other neighborhoods. For example, power was out yesterday when we woke up so we had peanut butter and banana sandwiches with avocado for breakfast. When we got home from soccer practice the power was back on and we even had internet. I was about to update the blog but power failed around 6:30pm and remained off until we wandered downstairs to inquire about dinner around 8:30pm. The housekeeper at our lodge, Esneth, makes some mean sadza and beef, and we've been buying the ingredients so she cooks for us and eats with us along with Mattias. She had almost managed to cook the entire dinner before power went out, but she hadn't yet cooked the sadza, a main ingredient (sadza is a Zimbabwean staple. Made out of cornmeal or "mealie-meal," it is a white and starchy and almost looks like mashed potatoes. However, it's much stickier and tastes like cornmeal. Zimabweans use their right hands to make a ball of sadza and then scoop up the other food on their plate with it- no utensils.) Anyways, there was no sadza so Esneth talked to Mattias and he cooked the sadza over a fire he made out of cardboard boxes, wood, and several plastic bottles. Luckily the cover was on the pot (almost) the whole time. It tasted fine, anyways. The power didn't come back on until I was woken out of a dead sleep by the flourescent lightbulb over my head zapping to life at 1:21am. I turned off the lights and went back to bed, but by morning we had no power again. More peanut butter and bananas and off to training because the coaches decided to train in the morning today to avoid conflict with a social game happening on our training pitch at 3 this afternoon. -
Perfect timing, power's back. As I was saying, GRS Zimbabwe is really expanding and we're bringing in a consultant from the US to oversee everything and be part of our team. She arrives in September, and Ale and I are now part of a new department under Doc. We'll basically be his assistants. Our jobs started almost immediately - after breakfast yesterday we headed across the street to the offices of Children First, an international NGO that works in Zimbabwe to support local organizations working to ease the burden of HIV and AIDS on orphans here. We have partnered with them before on our Gen Skillz curriculum and Doc's job was to broker a new deal and gain their support for our VCT initiative.
VCT stands for Voluntary Counseling and Testing, and it's a GRS initiative that has been extremely successful in Zambia. VCT tournaments link the GRS curriculum to HIV testing by bringing in local partners with HIV testing capacity. In Zambia they have successfully tested up to 1200 people in a single day through VCT tournaments and they managed to test a total of 11,300 just last year.
The concept of VCT tournaments is a novel but very important and effective one. They bring communities together using the power of soccer and GRS implements some of its HIV awareness curriculum for youth at the tournaments throughout the day. Youth teams will go and get HIV tested together, along with their GRS coaches. This helps to combat stigma and most importantly it gives kids, and any other community members who attend the tournament, access to health services they may not normally have. Therefore the tournaments increase access to as well as uptake of the services. The tournaments are often held in poorer areas of town or townships, so that kids who don't have access to the services will now be HIV-tested for the first time.
Once tested, the program doesn't end there - this is a crucial feature of GRS VCT tournaments. The testing partners provide pre- and post- test counseling and then GRS works with other partners such as Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo to link the kids to treatment and youth support groups. Kids who test positive will be enrolled in programs at the hospital which provide ARVs (Anti-Retro Virals, the medicines needed to combat AIDS by combating the HIV virus and keeping viral load low in infected persons) and youth support groups and counseling programs. GRS coaches who have established trust with their students and have also been trained in counseling through another partner organization (Child Line - I got to go to a training session 2 days ago) will follow up on their positive students to make sure they're adjusting okay and taking their medications.
Therefore the VCT tournaments help kids who are negative by combating stigma (making it okay or even cool to test) and hopefully preventing infection through education. They also serve the community by providing access to health services even beyond testing ( community health organization will also provide condoms at these events or hold workshops), and through treatment through prevention (studies show that when infected persons are taking ARVs they are over half as likely to transmit the disease to others because their viral load is maintained at a low level; they will also be healthier and live longer lives, of course!). So VCTs are a win-win and our job was to convince Children First to join us in this venture. They already know about GRS' great work in Bulawayo so they were amenable to the idea and we parted ways yesterday hopeful that the partnership would go through. However, the CF representatives asked for a proposal by Friday so we could get moving on this and it fell to Ale and I to write it - our first assignment! We need to get back to work on it, actually.
But first a quick update on Bantu - Ale and I are playing for a professional team called Bantu Rovers which plays in the Zimbabwean Division 1 league. The league is right below their premier league, and Bantu are currently in 3rd place and fighting for promotion back to the premier league (they were just demoted last year). I trained with the team for the first time on Tuesday and though young, they're very talented, fit, and fast. They had a game on Sunday before I got here and lost 3-1 to the top team in the division which hurt our hopes of promotion this year. However, we have another game this Saturday and Ale and I were both selected to the squad of 18 to dress for the game. I talked to Shepard, our coach, on Tuesday before he saw me play and he said they'd give me two weeks to get fit. However, I had a few decent sessions and he selected me for the game and told me, "you can't start but you need to be ready," so I think there's a chance I'll see the field already. He told us we're playing a big, bruising team with a bunch of policemen on it, so we'll have to play hard to win and keep our promotion hopes alive. Need to get back to work on the proposal! If power allows, I will dutifully update tomorrow. Bantu info:

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