A Soccer Ball, A Rock, and a Hard Place

20 Aug

An old acquaintance from undergrad came through last week; she happens to be in Peace Corps Cameroon. After a long conversation with those volunteers I walked away with a new appreciation of Ethiopia, but also an interesting comparison. The volunteers kept mentioning that their sites did not have street children and were surprised to see so many in my town. One thing that Gondar definitely has: homeless kids.

Big cities. Economic growth. Tourism. There are so many positive things about those three phenomenon, but it is also the perfect storm for poverty. Many of the children who come into Gondar came from rural villages in order to make money in the biggest city in the area. Many of them have lost their parents to disease or worse. Many of them make their money selling gum, or begging. So what happens during low season, when the rains come, and the tourists flee? You get a lot of kids living on the street.

These OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children as they are known in the industry), are at the highest risk for HIV, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, and general hard times.

So with the help of a local NGO, a flock of Israeli volunteers in town for a short period, and a lot of soccer balls, we put together a summer camp over three weeks. I provided the programming, they provided the space and the food (yes, free food is an international language).

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The program goes through 11 sessions of HIV prevention techniques – life-skills, understanding the disease, stigma and support, gender issues, the ABCs of protection (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms), and avoiding risky situations. We are one of the first programs in Ethiopia, though the SKILLZ curriculum is currently done in about 25 Peace Corps countries in Africa and South America. It comes from the Grassroot Soccer organization based in South Africa (Cape Town), and was founded by former Zimbabwe soccer players, one of whom won Survivor: Africa in 2002.

We ran three concurrent programs with 63 street kids (about 20 per team). I trained two local NGO workers from Yenega Tesfa who run the mobile school for street kids, and brought in my trusty co-worker Edward who had already been trained on the program in May.

We were lucky enough to have six soccer balls donated from USAID for our Camp GLOW program, which I appropriated for a few more weeks.


The entire program was done in Amharic, so having trained myself out of a job like a good volunteer, I got to take photos. One of our challenges, however, was the fact that many of these kids are illiterate, having been to school off and on over their lives. We worked around that with conversations, games, and an oral pre and post test (gotta have that Monitoring & Evaluation).


Know how to assess a risky situation - RED CARD!

Know how to assess a risky situation – RED CARD!

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.


We also didn’t really have a budget, so goals were done with rocks, props were pieces of paper, and limbo sticks were broom poles. But that’s the great thing about this program, it doesn’t need much to implement. The fact that we had balls at all was pretty great, and every time I brought the big sack from my office, I looked like a strange Santa walking the streets of Gondar. But we had new kids joining all throughout the first week as word got around about the program.

HIV Limbo - The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

HIV Limbo – The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

Christmas in Gondar

Christmas in Gondar

I was afraid at first that some of the topics would be too advanced, too sensitive, or that the giggling would override the message. But this is a real issue in Africa, and the kids understood that. I had to take my notions of 10th grade health class off the table, and I was thoroughly impressed by the participation and seriousness of the kids, between the fun.

juggling multiple sexual partners (and mutliple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your "goals"

juggling multiple sexual partners (and multiple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your “goals”


a little gymnast

a little gymnast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall the program went well. The kids all said it was “arif naw!” (awesome), and that they really learned things (especially about condoms). But I think the most rewarding part for me, is after living in Gondar for almost 8 months, my name is known. The kids recognize me, they sing my energizer on the streets, and give each other “kilos” (a version of praise) outside the program. The lessons were important, but the community created was exceptional.

At graduation to hear 63 kids whooping and hollering about certificates, chanting my name (literally) was almost overwhelming. But then somebody started a song, and it all continued on.




Here are some of the Kilos and energizers the kids loved, as well as some more photos:

Energizers Video – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153986665523

Kilos Video – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153985320523

Photos – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10153153998840523.1073741830.640805522&type=1&l=119c599546

3 Responses to “A Soccer Ball, A Rock, and a Hard Place”

  1. Jackie August 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    This is amazing! You’re amazing!


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    […] Reached 244 students with prevention programs such as Grassroot Soccer (4 interventions) and ARC awareness programs. Trained 12 HIV + women in income generation activities […]

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