Fancy footwork, teens and HIV

By Baikong Mamid

It’s difficult going anywhere without getting caught up in the football fever these days. The World Cup is in the semi-final stage this week and I have to admit that the football bug has bitten me in a big way — even though I was never a football fan before.

Now I am glued to my seat every time there’s a match on television and I have even taken to wearing a South African football jersey on “Football Fridays”. The only thing I am still struggling with is getting an expert understanding of the football rules!

But a recent visit to Khayelitsha, a vast township on the outskirts of Cape Town with more than 500 000 inhabitants and where nearly one adult in three is HIV-positive, has given me a different sense of South Africa during the World Cup. Despite the poverty and the high burden of HIV and TB co-infection here, life goes on here in Khayelitsha (meaning “new home” in locally spoken Xhosa). People celebrate life and soccer in their own little ways — like at the youth festival held at Bulumko School recently.

The festival was organised by the Khayelitsha Youth Forum in collaboration with partner organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, Youth Aids, the Simelela Centre and many other community organisations.

Khayelitsha Youth ForumChildren flock to front of the stage to watch a youth drama group portraying the importance of peer counselling in the prevention of HIV through their play © Baikong Mamid/MSF

Hundreds of children and youths joined in the singing, dancing and took part in the community dramas and choir performances. These activities were all intended to raise awareness about HIV/Aids among young people and to promote HIV-prevention programmes and youth health services available in Khayelitsha. Here teens have access to HIV counselling and testing, can learn more about antiretroviral therapy, sexual reproductive health education, support sessions and even learn life-skills and more about HIV/Aids through a grassroots soccer initiative.

Lerato Mhlwawuli caught my eye. This six-year-old girl became the undisputed queen of the stage when she swayed to the rhythms and beat in a totally uninhibited display of her dancing skills. She looks tiny and cute, but her confidence and talent shone through with every step of her stunning performance. Of all the performers she got the loudest cheers from the audience. Nonledo Bulana of Youth Aids beamed with pride as she hugged Lerato tightly.

Nonledo and Lerato
Nonledo from Youth Aids gives Lerato a big hug after her amazing dance performance © Baikong Mamid/MSF

“We at Youth Aids make a difference by focusing on HIV-prevention efforts among children and young people aged seven to 25. I believe that it is important to empower children and the youth by educating them about HIV/Aids and understanding their bodies. We do this because they are the future, and hold the key to an HIV/Aids-free society one day,” Nonledo explained.

I also managed to speak to Dr Carolina Malavazzi Galvão, an MSF doctor from Brazil working in the Khayelithsa Youth Clinic.

She told me why the youth festival is important: “It is vital that HIV programmes integrate different youth services to prevent HIV from spreading, especially among young people. Here in Khayelitsha, adherence to HIV treatment among children and the youth is very low. Many patients stop going to the clinics. We need to educate their parents or guardians so that children will understand why it is essential to continue their treatment and to seek support initiatives that can help them cope with their HIV status.”

I was happy to hear that these youth-oriented initiatives help give young people more answers about how to fight HIV and that the next youth festival will take place in areas where many kids hang out.

Now, if only I can find some “extra-time” to untangle the mystery of football rules before the World Cup final. Any volunteers to coach me?

Baikong Mamid is the communications officer at MSF South Africa