Youth Football Dribble for Safe Sex
When youths drawn from the Mathare Youth Sports Association took to the field recently for one of their major football tournaments, the teams were not playing for money or a trophy.
In an attempt to address the alarming prevalence of HIV/AIDS among young people particularly in Nairobi’s informal settlements, early and unwanted pregnancies and the consequently high school dropout rates, the teams played to win a theme.
“The theme was ‘Play it Safe or Zip it’ and it was a way to bring sexuality issues that affect young people to a platform that is easily accessible to them and in a manner that is fun and friendly,” says Evans Odenyo.
Odenyo is a football player and coach in Githurai, Nairobi who continues to use his passion for the game to address sexual and reproductive health issues.
The executive chairperson of the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) in charge of all activities said that the tournament was organized to “create awareness around safe sex and to encourage young people to either protect themselves using condoms and contraceptives or to abstain from sex.”
The team that scored the most goals “held the bragging rights as the team that together with their fans plays it safe when it comes to all matters sexuality by being informed, using protection and staying in school.”
Government statistics show that youths account for an estimated 60 percent of Kenyas total population with the statistics further showing that these populace is not faring well in all matters sexual and reproductive health.
According to a 2014 study by the African Population and Health Research Center, almost half of the pregnancies among young people between 15 and 24 years are unplanned.
Other statistics paint a similarly grim picture with the National Aids Control Council 2014 statistics further showing that 29 percent of all new HIV infections are among young people aged 15 and 24 years.
Odenyo says that young people below the age of 24 years have been neglected hence the need for youths to stand with other youths in addressing challenges that continue to stand between them and their goals in life.
As a young peer educator in family planning, Odenyo discovered that young people are more likely to engage in lessons about contraceptives and family planning when they are in a comfortable, welcoming environment.
It is within this context that Odenyo through MYSA begun to address issues relating to family planning and or contraceptives through football but quickly realized that contraceptives alone were not the solution.
Leah Wanaswa, a reproductive health expert in Nairobi explains that “lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information was the main cause of unwanted pregnancies as well as the consequences resulting from some of the choices that young people make when faced with a pregnancy they do not want to keep.”
Dr John Ong’ech, head of reproductive health at Kenyatta National Hospital concurs explaining that most of the challenges facing the youths can be addressed through comprehensive information and access to youth friendly services. It is for these reasons that Odenyo continues to push for interventions that can reach youths in spaces where they are most comfortable.
Odenyo explains that MYSA is a youth led, youth owned association which has an estimated 27,000 registered members from the associations 16 zones all of them in Nairobi and all of them targeting young people from the informal settlements including Githurai, Kariobangi and Kayole.
Through football, he says that there are many opportunities to address youths since a single Zone can play up to 200 games in a year.
“Young people are redefining football and using it as a platform to address the serious social challenges that they face, particularly those associated with sexual and reproductive health,” says Wanaswa.
Members are both male and female. Anyone within the 16 zones mapped out by MYSA can be a member, joining is free but to be a registered member you must be, or have been either a football player or coach.
Odenyo says that there are many different teams mostly joined based on age groups such as under 12, over 16 “for instance I have a team of under 12 that I coach but I also play for an over 16 teams.”
Through football, youths will continue dribbling towards a society where sexual and reproductive health services are available, accessible and affordable for the young people.