Michael Acton and Christine Illanes are students who traveled throughout Africa and visited a number of GlobalGiving projects. On March 17th they visited "Using the power of soccer to fight HIV/AIDS." When asked what they would tell their friends about this project, they said: “Great: They are making a difference."
We visited Nancy in her office that CASL shares with Best Buddies Kenya. It was a small room that was full of activity. People would call or stop by to see what the next steps were.
That afternoon we went to visit a slum where some of the volunteers visit schools to discuss HIV/AIDS. In one classroom we watched a training session as they reviewed methods by which HIV/AIDS can and cannot be transmitted. They also discussed ways to support those infected by HIV/AIDS. We were a little surprised at the age of the children as they openly discussed topics that would not be mentioned in western classrooms. That's when it hit us that this was not a lesson in HIV/AIDS theory to be known but with consequences hardly faced, but that this was a part of their daily life.
I met Nancy Njeri from the Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), which changed their name from CASL to something in Swahili. While I can’t remember what the new name is, the new acronym is VAP. The original plan was to meet only with VAP, but I discovered that Best Buddies and VAP are run by the same people, so I ended up meeting with both. It was a hectic day, and totally exhausting, but well worth it! While the building that their “office” is in looked really fancy from the outside, the office itself was the size of a closet. They made the most of it, cramming 2 desks with computers and a small refrigerator (for selling drinks to support the project). Nancy, and VAP, loves Global Giving since it was the first to finance their activities and is still their major source of funding.
VAP runs three different programs, whose main goal is to teach kids about HIV/AIDS by using how popular soccer is to create a relationship with the children that they can use to educate them about difficult issues. Later in the week I met a beneficiaries of VAP who was employed, thanks to the work that VAP is doing, by another Global Giving NGO, Alive and Kicking. They’ve also added a girl’s advocacy program called RAMBO, I don’t know if that’s the correct spelling but I prefer it. RAMBO means beautiful girl, which I think is awesome! VAP’s motto is that “Even if you’re not infected, everyone is affected.”
After meeting with Nancy, one of their youth volunteers named Charles came to escort us to one of the field sites. It was my first time riding a matatu, which is kind of like a bus and kind of like a taxi, but also not anything like either. We got off at one of the smaller Nairobi slums, all I remember is trash everywhere, and open sewer drains running through the “streets.” I don’t think that Charles was prepared for the attention that we received, with every kid and some adults shouting “How are you” in English to us. That was all they knew, since any attempt to respond just got blank looks. I’m still curious why just about everyone in Kenya knew that one phrase, it’s not like they could pick it up on TV, maybe it’s said on the radio a lot, I don’t know.
I managed to pick up two followers all my own. The girl couldn’t have been more than 10 and her sister at least half that, but they decided following me was more interesting than going home, so we formed a parade through the slum. I couldn’t help myself from slowing down to make sure that the girls, especially the littlest one, could make the jumps over the open sewage, which was silly since they lived there, so of course she could. The oddest thing was the eldest’s reaction to a motorcycle that came through the slum. It was going very fast, but she was terrified, running from it in genuine fear and hiding. I don’t know if she was afraid of being run over or grabbed, but it was disturbing. When we started walking again, I felt a little hand grab mine, and we stayed that way until we came to a junction that must have led back to her home. I’m sure she had a great time telling her family and friends about the day!
Soon after we reached the school where Charles was going to teach his class on HIV/AIDs, and I sat through the 10 minute class. The class was very adult, with most of the kids parroting some things it was clear that they didn’t understand. Charles said it’s because they will take that information home to their families, as well as hopefully remember it when they are old enough to understand. The school itself was depressing, made of metal sheeting, which meant that the school itself was a kind of oven; I was certainly baking once we went inside. Two of the kids were obviously very bright, checking previous notes and taking new ones. I was sad about what their schooling prospects were, such wasted potential, but I hope that they get lucky and manage to succeed. At least the VAP program will give them a better chance at surviving. It was another exhausting day in Kenya, but well worth the visit and experience.