The day after finishing a week long bike ride from Lusaka to Livingstone must have been a little anti-climactic, right? Oh no. Our riders took the morning to explore Livingstone, some had breakfast at Victoria Falls, others went hunting (with cameras) for the white rhino (one of only 7 left in Zambia) and others simply took the opportunity to sleep in and rest their weary muscles.
After lunch, however, it was off to the Bike Zambia sponsored Grassroots Soccer Tournament! Six local youth football teams came together to compete for prizes and to raise awareness for HIV testing and support services offered by Grassroots Soccer. Grassroots not only organizes the tournaments, they provide the support and testing available at the tournaments as well.
“Coaches” (peer educators) are trained to educate young people on the importance of knowing your HIV status, following ARV schedules if you are positive, staying safe if you test negative and to dispel myths about HIV and AIDS. All players are required to be tested before they can participate, not to prevent HIV positive players from playing, but to encourage the youth attending the tournament to also get tested. Testing is the only way to know your status, and knowing your status is the only way to keep yourself healthy.
When Bike Zambia arrived at the tournament, we were treated to educational games that are played between matches, as well as some dancing to lighten the mood. Learning can be fun, too! Then it was off to have a tour of the services offered. We met with counselors who are available pre and post testing (regardless of the results of the test), the test administrators as well as the incomparable Moomba Mbolongwe, HCT & Partnerships Coordinator for Grassroots Soccer and organizer of all three Bike Zambia sponsored tournaments. She not only took the time to answer our many many questions, she even brought us food!
Finally it was time to watch the final match and cheer on the amazing players. How these kids play in sand, often without shoes, is amazing to me. They were amazing. Each team is required to have at least three girls, and there must be three girls playing at all times. In addition, if a girl scores a goal, it’s worth two points to her male counterparts one. While this may seem unfair, in a culture that regularly puts value on boy children and marginalizes it’s girls, the effort to include and encourage female participation is a wonderful thing.
Once the winner had been firmly decided, we had the honor of presenting prizes to all six participating teams. No team left empty handed, and the top three teams got medals! The winningest team was awarded a trophy that will float between winning teams for the rest of this year. At the end of the year they will have a final tournament to decide the winningest team of all. After handing out awards and saying our thank you’s to everybody who helped put together the tournament, we danced. There is never a shortage of dancing at a Grassroots Soccer event.