The day after the big storm the DAC office driver, Bob, picked me up from my house in a government truck and drove me, the DAC office supplies keeper, Albert, and about 200 meat pies over to a residential part of town called Area W. We were headed to the sports field to fulfill some of our duties as DAC officers, representing the office to show support and take note of the success level of the event. This match wan’t created solely to play football, but because more and more HIV/AIDS based organizations are using tactics like football tournaments to reach out to young men.
Area W is a residential part of town with low to middle income housing. It’s just a few blocks from Francistown’s ritzy outdoor mall and big box store (think Wal-Mart but slightly more upscale), but our group conversations with community members reveal that the area, like many areas in Francistown, has a substantial problem with brothels, over drinking, out-of-school youth, and consequently, HIV. These problems can be well hidden from outsiders – one would probably not know it if he were to walk past a brothel as they look like any other home. Because the problem areas can be so hidden, penetration into the community and implementation of behavior change can be much more difficult.
The day’s organizer was Ultimate Youth of Destiny, an up and coming NGO in Francistown that caters to educating young people on the benefits of abstinence until marriage. It’s also one of many organizations that occasionally uses football as a bridge to bring a message of HIV/AIDS awareness to young men and women, but especially men. Men in Botswana statistically don’t test for HIV as often as women, and therefore have a greater chance of infecting several partners before becoming aware of a positive HIV status. So, ideally, the men hear news of the game, come out to play, eat a meat pie provided and paid for with government District AIDS Office money, and leave with a message of healthier living. Positive reinforcement through food and sports.
I was amazed at how many people turned up. Six teams worth, or about 30 players, came out to play while onlookers sat on the roads nearby or walked through the field as the games commenced. The game field was just a large patch of ground enclosed by street and trees. Off to the right from where I sat was a huge pool of rainwater from the storm the night before that repeatedly floated the football during a play. The teams trickled in over the course of the morning, each with their own impressive uniform shirt, and jumped right into the game with intense energy under the hot and humid sun. They seemed totally unphased by the sweltering heat.
The Saturday was turning out to be an excellent day for a football match, but a pretty unlucky day for the real purpose of the game – getting the message of abstinence and the dangers of multiple-concurrent partnerships (MCP) out to the players. Though the organizer from Ultimate Youth gave a brief pre-game talk on the goals of the organization, only one team out of 6 had arrived by that time. Once the games started, Bob and Albert attempted to set up the sound system and some large speakers so Ultimate Youth could play music and occasionally talk about MCP, but this plan fell through when the cord was too short to reach the power source, the Area W clinic, down the street. Bob and Albert left during a match to get a longer cord, and meanwhile more teams arrived and played and left and some didn’t receive the message. So when they were finally able to set up the sound system there were only a few matches left, and Ultimate Youth was only able to squeeze in a few last minute reminders towards the end.
The other issue with events like this is that even if the sound system had worked from the beginning, it’s still very difficult to determine how effective these types of events are. There isn’t really a quantifiable way to measure the effects of a message-based football tournament because behavior change is such a gradual process and can come from a number of different factors. And in a country of only 2 million with one of the most highly concentrated HIV positive populations in the world, all efforts need to be worthwhile. We are presented with a constant tug-of-war between reaching out to the community in an enriching way that produces a quick enough turnaround reduction of HIV infections, and fighting with the fact that poverty and lack of education lead so many so quickly down a destructive path. Regardless, we assume that a football tournament is a failsafe way to reinforce positive behavior by keeping people, at least temporarily, away from an abusive lifestyle and focused on healthy living and camaraderie.