Vijana Amani Pamoja (VAP)

To integrate social and economic values through football/soccer by creating a proactive health environment.
Jun 4, 2011

VAP is changin girls' lives in two Majengo schools

 

Last week I attended the Mrembo project graduation ceremony - which prepares girls for adolence and arms them with the wisdom about their bodies that will help them make better life choices.

VAP's founder, Enouce Ndeche, grew up in the slums of Kamukunji and played soccer addictively. I’ve known him for 3 years. Last year, I remember asking him where he got the idea to start this organization:

“I was volunteering with special olympics and one of the counselors gave me the idea – that one can impart life skills through sports.”

And for the last 7 years, Enouce changed his focus from getting noticed as a footballer to getting his fledgling organization noticed by funders. He’s had a few lucky breaks, but it have been a long hard slog from obscurity in a slum seldom heard of by outsiders.

Over the years VAP has gotten it’s fair share of capacity building support from CARE’s sports for social change network, and the occasional foreign NGO worker that visits the project and donates from his or her own pocket. VAP got introduced to GlobalGiving in 2006 along with CARE’s whole network of Kenyan sports organizations. But since then, it has been Enouce who has had to approach anyone he could think of to keep funding his projects. He can name SafariCom Foundation, SONY, Coaches Across the Continent, FIFA, and now the Anti-Corruption Commission among his supporters. But none of these sticks around for long, and none has provided VAP with funding for more than 3 consecutive years.

This isn’t an anomaly; this is business as usual in the NGO world. And although the money VAP has earned by reaching out to individiuals through GlobalGiving has been a modest piece of the whole, it’s been the most consistent source year after year. That’s because as unlikely as it is for any one person to give every year, the same percentage of 200 supporters will give each year. Nancy added that their sports & HIV project was largely funded through GlobalGiving in between grants.

Enouce attracted Nancy Waweru Ndeche 4 years ago to VAP, and she has been their programatic backbone. As a program manager, Nancy keeps VAP’s two dozen coaches and community volunteers on task and on budget. Nancy also says she loves the monitoring and evaluation side of her work – figuring out whether their approach is really working to change lives.


While Enouce is a middle-aged goofy, smiling kid with great rapport with youth, Nancy is the quiet inspirational leader. She encouraged Enouce to expand VAP’s programs beyond just sports to raise HIV awareness. Now they run a life-skills after school program for 100 girls aged 8 to 14 in two Majengo slum schools called the “Mrembo Project.” Mrembo means “Beautiful” in kishahili and as Nancy explains it, “The media reminds girls constantly about their outward beauty, but unless we help them realize their inner beauty, they will grow up making poor life decisions.”

The inner beauty is something special to behold, and I’ve had the honor of seeing it at Mrembo’s graduation ceremony today. We’re here handing out certificates to 100 girls who attended weekly thursday night classes about their bodies, boys, sex, aids, rape, and what to expect when they become teenagers. Liz, a teacher and Mrembo counselor, hands me certificates as Opo (one of the VAP coaches) calls each girl’s name. I shake hands with each girl and give them the certificate. Each one smiles and courtseys politely, but it is I who feel inaequate and full of gratitude for being invited to be part of this special moment. If you know what it takes to achieve this, you would too.

 

In addition to her work, Nancy is also a university trained swahili teacher (my teacher, in fact) and a mother of a 2 year old kid. In addition to worrying about where the money will come next month to pay her “coaches” (who mentor hundreds of youth) their $150 stipends, she found the time to travel to these schools and lead the classes herself for the first few months. She didn’t do it because anyone told her it was a good idea, or awarded her a grant, or took duties off her already full plate; she did it because it needed to be done and nobody else was gonna do it. It is that “funders be damned” attitude about starting a program that I admire in Nancy. I’m here for all of 2011 to run the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project, of which VAP is a part – but would I have the guts to do this if I had to also get a second job to make ends meet? I doubt it.

Kudos to those who trailblaze new programs where not a single funder comes forth to ease the path – like Nancy and her team at VAP. The Mrembo project happened because a mere handful of people made it happen. What they raised ($1,600), they earned all through GlobalGiving. What they couldn’t raise, they simply did without.

The peer educators put in extra time at no extra pay to help – like when they counseled a traumatized 8 year old girl whose best friend was raped. After graduation, Head Teacher Liz wrote her mobile number on the chalk board. “I’m 24-7 if you ever need to talk to someone about rape, menses, HIV, or anything, call me,” she says. This is the face of “innovation” – it’s a labor of love, not intellectual creation. Every time a mother is there to listen to a neighbor’s kid or offers a shoulder to cry about the challenges of growing up poor in a town where aggressive guys are trying to have sex with you before you even know that sex is, you’re looking at “International Development.” Only it isn’t international anymore, or really development – it’s dealing with problems on your street. And I hope by sharing what that looks like, I can make it  easier for others to keep on doing what they’re doing.

 In their final Mrembo session, as part of the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project, the girls wrote stories about the challenges they face. One girl’s story went:

“Thanks to Mrembo project for teaching me about adolescence and rape and reproductive health and HIV. I want to end my bad behavior going to airstrip with boys. Now I want to find my second virginity. I was wrong but now I understand. I will give up prostitution forever.”

Another story from a girl under 14 went:

"There was a girl who was my best friend and was known as Elizabeth and we was in the same class which was class six. She have two songs and she is in a bad friendship now.

One day Eliz and I, we went to a place where was a group of people and they was some boyz who was boyfriends of Eliz. I ask Eliz, 'Eliz where are you going with that boy?'

She haven't answer any thing but Eliz, she went with a boy by bad new she slept with that boy and she get a pregnancy which was the second pregnancy. She gave up with education."

These stories are from young girls, not teenagers, yet they've witnessed rape, faced pregnancy and early marriage.

According to Nancy and Liz, these girls were quiet at first, but over 18 months it became clear they’re exposed to much more than anyone could imagine. Anyone who thinks sex-education doesn’t matter to an 8 year old needs to come here and see the Mrembo project in action. And yet it only reaches two schools, when perhaps hundreds need it.
After graduation I spoke with the Principal of this “informal school.” In 14 years of operation, they’ve gotten no government funding and they only ask the parents to pay 300 Kenyan shillings a month ($3.75). Still, half the parents can’t even scrape it together. The head teacher said, “so what can he do? I will never turn away a smart student who is working hard. It is a dilemma.” Money has to come from somewhere, but it never comes. He showed me receipts for teacher allowances – 2000 shillings a month. He admits this $24 is too small to be called a salary, but he can’t give them any more. Teachers are here because they too want the community to improve – and giving kids an opportunity through education is worth the work, even if it doesn’t pay.

Their efforts can sometime attract the wrong kind of attention. During the ceremony he made a speech about how when he took over this school 18 months ago, there were a lot of programs that he had to throw out, but that Mrembo was one of the few that remained. There were people coming here to deliver ARVs, but eventually their supply of aids-fighting drugs dried up. By the time he’d taken over the school, these people were still coming – and bringing white people to the school to show off the work they claimed to be doing, but it was a sham. He said, “Eventually I couldn’t lie to the whites anymore. No one was getting any of the medicine as these people were saying. I tossed them out. But Mrembo has been here every Thursday night for months, teaching these girls.”

It saddens me that the world is full of do-gooders that sacrifice for others who live and work alongside freeloaders that try to cash in on that generosity (by convincing whites to give them money for ARVs they’ll never distribute) – but at least I feel there are ways to know who is who. And I’m asking you on behalf of Nancy, Enouce, and all the rest who have always been making a difference – if you can spare some money (perhaps $10 a month) for Mrembo – that you do so today. Their money has dried up, and Mrembo won’t happen next fall without money for sanitary pads and transport.

One person can change a life

It turns out that one person got the Mrembo project off the ground financially. One anonymous donor (of the 14 total) gave $1000 last year on GlobalGiving.  With part of that money VAP bought a mini fridge, stocked it with sodas and sold them, raising 800 shillings each month this way. According to Nancy this monthly $10 has helped them distribute sanitary towels to the girls, but they had to stop in May. The Principal also drove home this point today, noting that girls without sanitary pads miss about 60 days of school each year.

This postcard is from a visit to VAP's Mrembo Project on May 26 20111.

Apr 20, 2011

VAP's New Monitoring and Evaluation Work

 For the last couple of weeks VAP has been working on adapting a new data system dubbed Scorecard. The system captures and tracks all details of program deliverance including: ages and genders of the participants, dates of program delivery, number of coaches and participants in attendance, activity conducted and the places of the program. The Scorecard is then uploaded into an online database called Sales force where VAP loads all of their programmatic data.

 Pre/Post:

The Skillz Kenya program uses a Pre and Post survey to evaluate participants’ critical thinking, communication, self esteem, and decision making. The results of the survey should hopefully show massive changes in participants’ knowledge and attitudes about HIV/AIDS after they participate in the Skillz Kenya curriculum.

 Field Office Operations

Since the acquirement of the new ground office, Operations have been streamlined    efficiently with VAP coaches having easy access to program materials and enough room for their monthly monitoring and evaluation meetings. Additionally, due to the availability of enough working space, VAP volunteers can also access a place to work and easily mingle with the community around.

 Global Bikes Donate Bikes to VAP

 Global Bikes made a significant donation of 6 bikes to VAP. The donation of bikes will help VAP coaches move from program sites in a more efficient manner and will allow more children to benefit from the Skillz Kenya program. Global Bike has a simple mission: Use the transformative power of bikes to create positive social change in the developing world.

   VAP Coaches Attend GTZ Youth Leadership Workshop

 Two VAP coaches: Christine Atieno and Eligious Basil had an opportunity to attend a 5 day Youth training workshop organized by GTZ under the auspices of youth development football that commenced on 21st-25th March 2011. Amongst other organizations attending the workshop were: MYSA and MTG who were also represented by 2 young leaders respectively. The first 3 days training focused on effective ways of coaching young participants and the last 2 days focused intensively on leadership and management skills."The training I have received is so timely and I have gained a lot that would propel me, my fellow coaches my entire organization to make a real impact to the lives of the young participants that we work with.” Said Eligious Basil, VAP coach.

 

Mar 30, 2011

"We need to cheer our home team versus HIV/AIDS

Opo is one of the coaches/peer educators that work with Vijana Amani Pamoja. Here he shares his inspiring story and why he wants to fight the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

MY COACH’S STORY

Today I have this chance of reflecting and celebrating the life of the best friend I have ever had, the person who has shaped how I have viewed life since I was a young boy. Even though I did not get the chance to enjoy his company into adulthood the experiences I have had with him gave me a better understanding of what life is and how to relate to other people. These experiences, that I treasure so much, give me the extra energy that I, as a Skillz coach, need when I intervene and advocate for positive behavior change among my friends and young people in my community.

Dave (not real name) was a funny, energetic, and playful friend. He was full of games and he loved football very much. During my school holidays, travelling upcountry was the only thing in my mind. School holidays were the best times in my life, to date. I cannot remember having so much fun since those days—and the star of the show was Dave. Dave’s parents died when he was still a little boy. As I knew it then, his parents died from “the wrath of a strong wind” wiping out the entire village, they called the wind “Ayaki Matieka,” a Luo word for “the wind that finishes.” After his parents died, he was put under the custody of his uncle. We nicknamed Dave “Rivaldo,” a Legend of Brazilian and world soccer. Dave admired Rivaldo so much that whenever he scored a goal during our ‘World Cup’ (we had a rusty metal tea cup as our world cup trophy!) he ran all over the home with his shirt covering his face just as the Brazilian Rivaldo did whenever he scored.

We used to chase each other in the banana plantation as we kicked the banana trees pretending that they were our enemies. We admired the Kung-Fu masters from those Japanese films and we loved how they fought off their enemies with their special fighting styles—our favorite being the “Drunken Master” style. We pretended we were drunk and staggered as we walked like a drunkard and we threw kicks to the helpless banana trees. It was so much fun and we used to come home later from the “battle” at the banana plantation, with our feet hurting so badly!

Dave’s aunt was not kind to him. She used to beat him up for mistakes that were petty. I can’t forget the cries of pain when he was being beaten and he was always given very heavy and odd jobs to do. Despite Dave being sick (we were told that we were not supposed to be too close to him or share our food with him) I never, at any time, saw his aunt take him to hospital or see him take medicine. Even though Dave was performing well in school his parents decided to take him out of school—this I never understood. Despite all this harsh treatment he was undergoing, Dave still found the strength to make jokes and have fun. He still could play football with us and score goals with his powerful left foot that always brought our goal post down.

During my subsequent holiday visit, Dave’s health started to deteriorate, he became weak and he was always coughing so much that he even strained to breath. During this time, we were being told not to be near him and when we were seen around him we were punished. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want us to be near him. Dave was our Hero. He was our Leader. He was our best friend and we were not asking for too much. We only wanted to be in his company. Dave died a painful death and even though his death didn’t mean much to many people, it was everything to us, his friends. Fun was no more, only memories of it.

To date, there is not one person who can convince me that it is the AIDS virus that killed Dave. Dave died as a result of the treatment he was subjected to by the people who were responsible for taking care of him—the society. If only we would all have shown real love to him, Dave would have lived long enough to see Brazil lift another World Cup. Rivaldo, his favorite player, was in the 2002 squad. What a joy that would have been for him.

We need not stigmatize our own people living with HIV: we are part of them, they are part of us and we can never live apart. They are human. We are human. We need not be inhuman to them. We  are not immune from HIV. Some are born with the virus, some cannot escape its clutches, and the rest only need to make one misguided choice and we could also be infected. Though Dave was infected with HIV, I have been affected by it up to today as I have lost one of my best friends. We are neither far from being infected with HIV nor are we far from death. We all die eventually and it doesn’t matter whether you are HIV positive or not. The best we can do is support those who are positive as they battle with the virus. They are on our team and we need to put on our “Makarapas” and prepare our ”vuvuzelas” to go to the stadium of Humanity and cheer our home team versus HIV & AIDS. Neither can the virus stand the sound of the vuvuzelas of love we are blowing, nor can it defeat our team if we all come to the stadium. And if anyone asks you why we need to do this, pause for a moment and reply… WE ALL HAVE DREAMS TO ACHIEVE, WE ALL WANT TO REACH OUR FULL POTENTIAL, WE ALL NEED EACH OTHER, WE ALL NEED TO BE APPRECIATED AS WE ARE AND WE NEED CARE FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV BECAUSE IT IS IN OUR HUMAN NATURE TO CARE FOR EACH OTHER.

The only way we can stop stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS is to encourage those among us who have been able to bounce back and became successful in life despite being HIV-positive to come out of hiding and dispel the fear that there is no life but death after being infected. Let them appear and be a source of inspiration to those who have tested positive and have lost hope in life. PLWHA also need role models among them and when the world will realize that life—not death!–can come out of us after testing positive, the stigma subjected to our own people living with HIV will be reduced. We can do it. We have the power to do so. It is within our reach.

 

Your coach,

Opo

Dedicated to my friends, donors and our people living with HIV/AIDS

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