For young people in Africa, the threat of HIV and AIDS is all the more profound because of a lack of education and the challenges they can face in their communities.
Suzan, 13, lives in Hoima District in Uganda, in a small village called Kikwite.
She is the fourth child in her family of eleven living together and has been affected by her father often coming home drunk and a lack of money to pay for school equipment such as books and uniforms.
Suzan is now telling her peers the facts about HIV and AIDS
Suzan has already been approached to have sex with other young people, leaving her vulnerable to pregnancy and HIV.
The Laureus-supported TackleAfrica project has provided HIV testing counselling and HIV sensitization at her school to explain the risks to her as well as free testing during football tournaments.
Suzan now knows how HIV is spread and how to protect oneself and is making new friends after learning how she can and cannot catch the virus.
She is tested for HIV at least every three months, sponsored by Laureus, and she aspires to work as ‘loud speaker’ to other young people about the spread and prevention of HIV in her village and district.
The figures in Uganda are startling, with 1.5m adults and children living with the virus and medical support strained during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Laureus World Sports Academy Member Michael Johnson has visited Uganda and seen how Laureus projects provide support for young people affected by HIV and AIDS.
Michael Johnson has visited Laureus projects in Uganda that use sport to educate young people into the dangers of HIV and AIDS
“I have visited many Laureus projects throughout the world over the last few years and I always find it a moving experience, but I found my visit to Uganda quite exceptional,” he said.
“I found it very emotional to be there and see for myself the work that is being done to help children that have suffered as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis which has been a tragedy for this country.
“When you come from the West, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the problems that countries such as Uganda have to face.”
The TackleAfrica project in Uganda uses football as a platform to engage young people and educate them about the risks of HIV, having trained female schoolteachers to become football coaches.
Young people undertaking football drills at a TackleAfrica coaching session in Uganda
Through coaching and tournaments, children are being taught about the spread and prevention of HIV and given access to contraceptives, as TackleAfrica’s Regional Programme Manager, Laura Brooks, explained.
“Things have been very tough in Uganda with borders closed, no movement allowed and a huge lockdown,” she explained.
“We had to shut down the programmes and it became difficult to still reach participants when the schools closed.
“Most children don’t have smartphones or even mobile phones so we had to get in touch with our coaches to organise regular calls.
“The coaches took it upon themselves to keep the programme going in small numbers near to where they lived.
“Most of the kids are aged 11-15, just approaching their sexual debut and a lot of them are forced to engage in non-consensual sex anyway, so we were really concerned in lockdown that many would be trapped with their abusers.”
The project is run by Hoima Network of Child Rights Clubs (HONECRIC) in partnership with TackleAfrica and Laura paid tribute to the support the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation has provided.
She added: “Laureus have great development experience and have been great, helping us to get account audits done and provide an infrastructure that has made a real difference.
“Laureus also offers technical support and learning communities where we can discuss best practice. They are very well known in the sector and they really understand the use of sport for social change and for social good.
“We are now hoping to use more funding to run our embedding programme, so that organisations can design their own sessions and continue to make a difference and save lives.”