"The master in the ART of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion" -- James Michener

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Eyeopener

Grassroot soccer has developed one major product which is their HIV/AIDS awareness curriculum called Skillz. The focus of GRS is to teach this curriculum to local “coaches” and enable them to teach these lessons to the youth of South Africa. The core Skillz curriculum consists of ten 45-minute sessions that use an activities-based approach to deliver HIV prevention and life skills education to African Youth ages 12-14. Through the Skillz initiative, GRS aims to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS by using role models as educators to teach youth about developing life skills and making healthy decisions. Topics of Skillz activities include: HIV basics, peer pressure, stigma and discrimination, risk awareness, partner reduction, Voluntary Counseling and Testing, peer socialization, healthy decision making, and positive living. Skillz further aims to encourage increased understanding of and open dialogue about HIV and AIDS, recognizing that silence and stigma are pervasive drivers of the spread of HIV.

Recently, Grassroots has been lucky enough to develop and pilot a new educational curriculum called Generation Skillz. Generation Skillz focuses on the older age group of 15-24 years and promotes conversation around domestic violence and gender relations. Generation Skillz augments the knowledge of Skillz 1.1 and takes a more mature and direct approach to address the major driving forces behind the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa which are: multiple concurrent partners, age disparate relationships, gender based violence, drug and alcohol abuse and unprotected sex.

Last week we trained our first group of Skillz coaches in this new curriculum. These coaches are already well adept at presenting Skillz 1.1, but are using the new curriculum as a development in their health education repertoire. A training course consists of the GRS training team from head quarters teaching the new curriculum to the Football For Hope Centre staff (FFH)-the people on the ground that will eventually be teaching the kids. The FFH staff then take the lessons home to study and perform a “teach back” to everyone the next day.

This four day process was one of the more interesting and difficult experiences I have had yet in Cape Town. I am not going to be able to convey my experience of participating in this training effectively, which bothers me, but I feel I have to try and articulate what I learned these few days. What I will suffice to say is that gender based violence and inequality are issues that are highly relevant and tough to deal with in this country and our local coaches are no exception. Not only is the Head Quarters staff working with ages of tradition and culture, we well trying our hardest not to discount the importance of both of these forces in the more traditional areas of South Africa. This creates a fine line to walk, especially when the gender norms of the country are the driving forces behind the health epidemic.

Although I know that equality between the sexes and domestic violence is a world-wide issue, I have never been so blatantly confronted with it. In South Africa the disparity of the rights and expectations between genders is openly evident. Even within our coaches who are the crème of the crop, people who work hard every day to fight against HIV and are fully invested in this cause, hold what come across to me as archaic views on gender roles. Many male coaches were comfortable running the show in this training, while the women were used to taking a place in the back. As well, my participation in vital conversations about the situations in which these coaches grew up, the violence and dysfunctional relationships they witnessed and consequently, why they hold their life views, made the situation even more convoluted in my mind. On one hand I could understand how their perspectives formed and respected their cultural heritage, but on the other, I had to vehemently disagree with how females are treated in this society. Additionally, I had to attempt not to pass a harsh judgment or discount the ills of my own birthright. Walking this line throughout the training was difficult for many of us and these philosophical topics became the focus of conversation for our whole house last week.

Despite the fact that the training was tough and frustrating for me, the more I come to know these coaches, the more I love working with them and the more respect I have for what they have done for themselves and their community. Yet, when studies such as Medical Research Counsel Survey finds that twenty-eight percent of South African men disclosed having ever raped a woman and nearly half reported having ever perpetrated domestic violence, some serious questions need to be raised. I’m not sure whether these are questions of universal human rights, cultural sensitivity, Westernization, colonialism, race, education or psychology, but I know something needs be addressed. Attitudes and feelings need to be aired-out, especially within an organization that promotes health and well-being and who’s demographic of employees is necessarily a part of that staggering statistic.

These scenarios are why the development and piloting of Generation Skillz is so impressive. Violence between sexes is an established force affecting many people’s lives and it is unpleasant to talk about. The fact that GRS is approaching their staff, asking us to question our views and teach a curriculum that promotes gender equality as a necessity for beating HIV is remarkable because South Africa is struggling so hard with these issues. What got me through hearing about the graphic and seemingly hopeless scenarios, the frustrating opinions and the feeling of pushing a bolder uphill, is that there was obvious change within the week. What was an incredible for me, as a woman, was conveying my perspective to someone who has no cultural or historical grounds to give me credit, and seeing a light bulb of understanding illuminate. That is what I came here for and I hope to be a part of this messy, taxing, emotional, heartbreaking, and eventually somewhat rewarding process in the future.

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