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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First VCT Tournament!

GRS Zimbabwe kicked off its VCT campaign in style on 29 October! Here's a press release I wrote after the event that was published in this Saturday's Bulawayo Chronicle. The event was a blast!

First Grassroot Soccer VCT Tournament A Success

Saturday marked the launch of Grassroot Soccer’s Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) Tournament campaign in Bulawayo with soccer celebrities such as Highlanders’ coach Mkhuphali Masuku and captain Gilbert Banda turning out in force to promote HIV testing. GRS Voluntary Counseling and Testing tournaments will bring free HIV testing and other HIV health services to communities throughout Bulawayo in 2011 and 2012. Besides free HIV testing and other health services, each event features a soccer tournament between local high schools and other entertainment such as a DJ, dance groups, and Grassroot Soccer HIV prevention activities and dramas. The first VCT tournament was a huge success, drawing more than 600 community members to the Lobengula Rugby fields on Saturday, 29 October.

The success of the first Grassroot Soccer VCT tournament was made possible by the hard work of many Bulawayo community partners. Local and international partner organizations including Matabeleland AIDS Council (MAC) and Population Services International (PSI) generously offered free HIV testing to community members for more than 6 hours despite the heat of the day. The National AIDS Council (NAC) served as technical advisor for the event and mobilized its Young People’s Network to hand out information on Male Circumcision, Family Planning, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Hundreds of young people accessed HIV-related health information throughout the day at information booths set up by the various partners.

Grassroot Soccer has also formed a strategic partnership with Mpilo Hospital as part of its VCT campaign, allowing any HIV-positive youth between 16-19 years of age to be referred directly to the Mpilo OI Clinic for enrollment on ARV treatment with no waiting time. Counselors and Home Based Care Givers from Mpilo also played an invaluable role in VCT tournament preparation. Adolescent HIV counselors from Mpilo first prepared GRS coaches to provide HIV outreach through role-playing and rigorous training sessions.  Teams of GRS coaches and Home-Based Care Givers then ventured into the communities around Lobengula Rugby ground to visit more than 500 households during the two weeks prior to the event, inviting families to the VCT tournament and providing information about the services to be offered. The wild success of this outreach program was evident on Saturday: Chrispen Ngulube, leader of the MAC HIV testing team, remarked on the effectiveness of the door-to-door information visits, stating that MAC had previously provided its standard mobile VCT services in the Lobengula area but never with such a tremendous response from the public. Soccer matches, a festive atmosphere, and door-to-door invitations by Highlanders stars on the day of the event undoubtedly strengthened the community turnout as well.

Male and female students from nearby Masotsha and Njube High Schools competed in a friendly soccer tournament for the opportunity to hoist GRS trophies presented by Highlanders stars Gilbert Banda and Gift Lunga Junior. The girls from Matsosha and boys from Njube prevailed on the day, taking home silverware to be displayed in their schools until the next VCT tournament. DJ Prosper kept the crowds dancing all day long, even during heated matches between GRS coaches and staff including former Highlanders goal-scoring machine Gift Lunga Senior. Highlights of the entertainment program included an HIV drama performed by Gilbert Banda and Gift Lunga Junior, and GRS HIV prevention games led by former Mighty Warriors star and GRS master coach Sithethelelwe ‘Kwinji 15’ Sibanda. Community youth in attendance loved the GRS soccer activities designed to teach facts about HIV and AIDS, the benefits of male circumcision, and how to avoid HIV risks. 

The tournament concluded with the trophy presentation by Gilbert Banda, Gift Lunga Jr., and Highlanders legend Netsai Moyo, who also served as MC for the event. The inaugural GRS VCT tournament in Bulawayo was an enormous success, with more than 600 people in attendance, roughly half of whom elected to undergo HIV testing. GRS looks forward to bringing great community health events to other areas around Bulawayo in the coming weeks, with 3 more tournaments scheduled for 12 November, 19 November, and 3 December. The venues for the events will be announced shortly. To find out the latest Grassroot Soccer Zimbabwe news and more information on upcoming VCT events in your area, visit Grassroot Soccer Zimbabwe’s Facebook page by searching “Grassroot Soccer Zimbabwe.”