Africa, Children on the Frontline, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Women's Health

ZAMBIA: Orphans Learn Life Skills Through Soccer

LUSAKA, Oct 4 2009 (IPS) - For 70 minutes, the girls in the distinctive gold-and-green jersey of Brazil shut out the attacks by the visiting team. The bare feet of chubby-faced left back Njavwa Silungwe are lively in defence.

Jennifer Tembo is one of scores of vulnerable girls finding support in local football. Credit:  Lewis Mwanangombe/IPS

Jennifer Tembo is one of scores of vulnerable girls finding support in local football. Credit: Lewis Mwanangombe/IPS

The yellow-clad Chibolya Queens eventually lose the match. But their team’s mere existence is a small victory for its members. Chibolya Queens is a poor and loosely-knit outfit – a closer look reveals the girls’ jerseys don’t match – but the coach, players and support staff are not just playing for three points.

“When I say they have nothing I mean just that. Most of these teams don’t even have playing balls, and when they go for a match they have to walk there in addition to borrowing a competition ball,” said Rhoida Kafunda-Tembo sadly. She coordinates the Women’s Football League of the Football Association of Zambia.

Chibolya is a particularly tough neighbourhood, where even trained crime-busters from the Zambian police and the Drug Enforcement Commission fear to tread – despite it being only a stone’s throw from the heart of Lusaka.

“Here in Chibolya youths smoke ‘chamba’ (cannabis/dagga), and drink ‘kachasu’ (local illicit gin) all day long, sunrise to sunset, without being arrested. Prostitution is also rife, as it is a way of life for females of all ages,” observed a resident, Robert Mwiinga.

Silungwe and her team-mates find playing football gives them access to the information and support they need to avoid HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancy.

It also gives Silungwe confidence. “I want to be a nurse when I finish school,” she confides.

But there’s a long road ahead if she is to realise this ambition – Silungwe is 16, still in grade eight. “It has not been easy for me, because even the uncle I live with now does not want me. Each time he goes out drinking he will return and tell me to leave his house and get married, saying I am old enough,” she lamented.

Growing number of orphans

According to statistics from the National HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Council, Zambia today has more than two million children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and 750,000 of these are street children.

To date the government has sent only 135,000 of them to a Youth Empowerment Programme run by the Zambia National Service of the Ministry of Defence at Chiwoko Camp (Eastern Province), and Kitwe Skills Training Camp on the Copperbelt.

Trainees learn agriculture, automotive mechanics, carpentry and brick-laying, alongside English, mathematics, sport, culture and psycho-social counselling.

Silungwe’s mother and father died when she was just five.

Silungwe confesses that her relationship with her aunt is not strong enough for them to talk about intimate things such as HIV/AIDS, menstruation and pregnancy. That is why she turned to a football club for information.

Twice a week (Monday and Friday) the girls sit around in a corner of their football pitch, after training, to discuss HIV/AIDS, condoms, early marriages and unwanted pregnancies.

The Women’s Football League has decreed that all teams must have matrons to mentor the girls, and counsel them on the advantages of self-control and abstinence, but also on how to engage in sex without contracting HIV/AIDS, or conceiving unwanted babies.

“We teach them discipline – coming early to training and returning home quickly after practice.  We also teach them how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, and maintain high standards of personal hygiene,” said Mazyopa Nkhula, matron for another Chibolya team, the Shalom Queens. Topics include advice on substitutes for store-bought sanitary napkins.

Shalom Queens team captain Victoria Phiri admits that in Chibolya, and elsewhere in Zambia, it is not uncommon for terrified girls to dump their babies in pit latrines, or on communal rubbish dumps, and it is knowledge of how to avoid these situations that helps the team bond.

“As a team we not only learn how to play football, but to protect ourselves from early marriage, and bad things like unwanted babies and HIV/AIDS,” says the 17-year-old Phiri.

This is a large part of why local businessman Patrick Lubinda was aiming for when he formed the Chibolya Queens. He has shared some of the profits of his small retail outlet with the team, but doesn’t have the resources to do much more for the players. Lubinda also coaches, manages and mentors the team.

“We have about 20 girls in the team, most of whom are orphans who due to poverty no longer attend school,” he said.

Misheck Banda, coach and manager of the Shalom Queens and proprietor of a small private school in Lusaka also digs into his own pockets to keep the team going. “If only we were receiving a little help – not money but balls and stuff like that – we would be able to boost the morale of these girls a great deal.”

 
Republish | | Print |