NAIROBI, 8 September 2010 (PlusNews) - On a dusty football field in Mathare, one of the largest slums in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, young boys chase a rough, home-made ball. Their coach, Elias Mwangi, 21, a former drug addict, hopes football will not only keep the boys away from crime but motivate them to avoid behaviours that put them at risk of HIV.
"Life in the slum looks like it does not offer any hope. For young people, crime, abusing drugs and sleeping with everybody whenever you get an opportunity offers the best alternative [to earning a living]," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "I left that life when I was already HIV-positive... I don't want them to join the bad life I found myself in.
"I want to create stars in football and not gun-runners and peddlers of sex," he added.
Mwangi and the boys he coaches are part of the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA
), a community group that works with more than 20,000 youngsters, linking sports with HIV prevention and community service.
MYSA was recently selected to manage a new Football for Hope
Centre built by FIFA in Nairobi. The centre is equipped with a modern football pitch, a voluntary counselling and testing centre and a youth resource centre.
"The youth love football, and this makes it the best avenue to deliver messages of hope and positive behaviour change - we will use the centre to do just that," said Bob Munro, founder of MYSA.
|I want to create stars in football, not gun-runners and peddlers of sex|
According to a recent report
by the international initiative, Football for an HIV-free Generation, such sports interventions can be used to develop leadership, communication and life skills, such as self-esteem, positive social behaviour and risk awareness.
The report found that football was a particularly good HIV prevention tool because of its wide appeal and its ability to directly reach communities and at-risk youth and achieve real behaviour change.
"In the slums there are talented youths who lack an avenue to show it and many direct that energy elsewhere," said Munro. "We tap the talent of these youths and give them an opportunity to shine in sports and earn a living."
Some MYSA members go on to play professionally for Mathare United Football Club, a successful team in the national football league.
Beyond football, the new centre will provide young people with computer skills that may help them to seek legitimate employment.
Curbing HIV risk
According to Nicholas Muraguri, head of the National AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections Control Programme, NASCOP, young people living in slums are more likely to engage in risky behaviour like sex work and drug abuse because of poverty and low education levels.
"Sports not only provides an alternative source of income, but also a way to rally the youth to go for tests and to get behaviour change messages," he said, citing a recent HIV testing drive
during the World Cup that was particularly successful at getting young sports fans to test.
According to UN-HABITAT, the UN Human Settlements Programme, almost half of Nairobi's population lives in about 100 slums and squatter settlements. A 2008 study
found that HIV and TB accounted for about half of all deaths in the city's slums.