New youth program harnesses the power of sports to change lives and bring awareness to HIV prevention
Mercy Corps, along with Partners In Health and Grassroot Soccer have launched Foutbol pou Lavi – Soccer for Life – in Haiti. The 18-month program will leverage the power of soccer to stop the spread of HIV, while increasing support and reducing stigma for people in Haiti living with the disease. Soccer for Life is also being supported by Nike, Major League Soccer (MLS) and Haitian organizations as well as funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs SportsUnited Division, Mercy Corps and Partners In Health.
“Soccer has an incredible unifying force that creates a healthy outlet for youth to channel their hopes and rebuild their lives,” said Kyle Dietrich, youth program manager for Mercy Corps Haiti. “Our goal with Soccer for Life is to foster that environment while bringing attention to a powerful disease afflicting Haitian communities.”
The program will reach more than 13,000 youth in three regions directly and indirectly affected by the 2010 earthquake and the HIV/AIDS pandemic: greater Port-au-Prince, Central Plateau, and Lower Artibonite. With an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate between 2% and 4%, Haiti ranks among the highest in Latin American countries. Through community mobilization events and public soccer tournaments, Soccer for Life will provide a safe space for HIV voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), increasing the knowledge and healthy behaviors needed to stop the spread of HIV.
Last month, workshops were held to train 60 coaches from 30 sports clubs and community organizations on how to incorporate HIV prevention and life skills training into their youth, health and sports projects. Throughout the program, Mercy Corps and its partner organizations will work in collaboration with Nike, Major League Soccer (MLS), the Haitian Football Federation and the Haitian Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Civic Action.
The holistic framework of Soccer for Life incorporates a knowledge exchange between U.S. and Haitian experts in community health and sport for development. As part of the exchange, a mixed-gender delegation of Haitian coaches will visit the U.S. next fall to meet with Portland Timbers coaching staff and to scrimmage with players, including the University of Portland women’s team. They also will meet with Nike representatives to understand the global movement behind using sport to address global health issues.
“Sports give young people the confidence to take action, and teach them to work together as a group,” explained Mercy Corps’ Haiti Country Director John Hanson. “We are thrilled to be working with leaders in this space to empower generations, young and old, to create positive change and a healthier future for all.”
Soccer for Life builds upon Mercy Corps’ extensive youth program in Haiti. Since the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the aid agency has trained over 7,500 Haitian educators, caregivers and youth workers to better understand and respond to the emotional and physical needs of children and youth affected by that traumatic event. Through signature emergency interventions, Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward, Mercy Corps has helped over 100,000 children in the recovery process. Today the youth program continues to build the capacity of youth and youth-focused civil society organizations by developing critical skills and meaningful opportunities for youth to empower themselves, access the market, and transform their communities.