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'Soccer for Life' kicks off on World AIDS Day

Haiti, November 30, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Our Soccer for Life program leverages the power of soccer to stop the spread of HIV, while increasing support and reducing stigma for people in Haiti living with the disease. Photo: Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps

December 1st is World AIDS Day. This year, Mercy Corps and Partners In Health are joining forces in Haiti to launch Foutbol pou Lavi — Soccer for Life — a program designed to harness the power of soccer to stop the spread of HIV.

On Thursday, we're gathering in the national stadium in Port-au-Prince to raise awareness about World AIDS Day and Foutbol pou Lavi. We want to increase the number of people who know their HIV status by offering Volunteer Counseling and Testing; reduce discrimination and stigma of people living with HIV through interactive discussions and educational health activities; and promote unity through mixed-gender soccer games.

Already, we've trained 60 people from around the country to be coaches in the program. Each will work with 40 youth over the next six months. In total, the 18-month project will reach over 13,000 young people in a country where an estimated 2 to 3 percent of the population is infected with HIV — among the highest prevalence in Latin America.

Foutbol pou Lavi is one of our Sport for Change programs — efforts to bring about social change through sports programs, which are becoming more common worldwide — and it's innovative in three important ways:

  1. It's a partnership among the government, nonprofit and private sectors. Our partners include the Haitian Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Civic Action; the Haitian Football Federation; Grassroot Soccer; Partners In Health; the U.S State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; Nike; and Major League Soccer.
  2. Foutbol pou Lavi takes a bottom-up approach. The program reinforces existing community organizations and sports clubs with an HIV prevention program that includes methodologies in activity-based behavior change, health education, and life skill development, while providing free access to health care services and treatment for all coaches and youth living with HIV or other illnesses.
  3. Our program is led by youth. This empowers young people to take ownership, and to demonstrate leadership in addressing complex social and health issues affecting their communities.

Soccer has an incredible unifying force that creates a healthy outlet for youth to channel their hopes and rebuild their lives. Our goal with Soccer for Life is to foster that environment while bringing attention to a powerful disease afflicting Haitian communities.