Grassroot Soccer (GRS) has a simple mission: To better protect young people from health risks
Sounds like a simple task, right? To the untrained eye this may be true, but take time to look closer. There are more adolescents today than in other time in history (about 1.8 billion.) Preventable diseases like HIV and complications from pregnancies continue to be the leading cause of adolescent deaths. This is especially true in developing nations, nations where the average income is much lower than in industrial nations.
In the developing world, there is often a lack of education about healthy living practices and health risks. Pair this with adolescence, a time in young people's lives when they often experiment with unprotected sex, drugs, alcohol and other ill-advised behavior, and you have an epidemic of youth health crisis. Less than 30 percent of youth in developing countries have basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS.
GRS knows how to reach youth in these areas of the world where kids are often left behind. The organization uses the power and universal language of soccer "to educate, inspire and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities."
Why soccer? Soccer is the most played and the most watched sport in the world. By using a soccer-based program, Grassroot Soccer hopes to build trust with youth and create safe spaces for them to learn and ask questions. Most importantly, soccer is fun and helps young people to build confidence on and off the field.
"It's our passion to change the lives of young people around us so that they too, can continue to make positive change for those around them," said Grassroot Soccer coach Sphokazi on the organization's website.
To date, GRS has reached more than 1.9 million in nearly 50 countries through its adolescent friendly health programming. GRS works with indigenous and international organizations throughout Central and South America, African and India to create models of the soccer program that fit their cultural needs.
The adolescent health organization uses trained local mentors to lead soccer programs and lively discussions that incorporate health and wellness lessons that will engage young people and break down cultural barriers. These mentors can range from professional soccer players to community youth leaders.
In addition to connecting kids with mentors, the program also provides the information and health services they need to thrive, empowering them to make educated decisions about the ever-present health challenges they face such as HIV/AIDS, sexual health, gender-based violence and malaria. The group's educational program is derived from its SKILLZ curricula, which is based on years of research, evaluation and tangible evidence.
The results show how much of an impact Grassroot Soccer has made:
- Graduates are eight times less likely to have had more than one sexual partner.
- Graduates are five times less likely than their peers to begin having sex between the ages of 12 and 15.
- Among participants, there is a 50 percent increase in knowledge of critical sexual health and reproductive services.
- Among participants, there is a 30 percent increase in knowledge of malaria treatment adherence.
- Graduates of GRS are less likely to believe that violence in relationships is acceptable.
- Female GRS participants report a higher sense of confidence and knowledge about the risk factors for sexual and gender-based violence and HIV.
- Male participants have shown improved gender equitable attitudes.
- GRS graduates are four times more likely to test for HIV and know their status.
This powerful quote from a Grassroot Soccer participant sums up the program best:
"I have changed a lot since my time with Grassroot Soccer... now I know where I'm from, where I'm headed, and where I want to be in the future." -Yamkela, Grassroot Soccer participant
Hats off to Grassroot Soccer for the amazing work they are doing in the lives of millions of young people through the beloved game of soccer! We salute you!