Fighting HIV through the ‘beautiful game’

Fighting HIV through the ‘beautiful game’

MOKEMA – ON a dusty soccer pitch, youthful teams from two neighboring villages are in a fierce battle for honours in Mokema. On the edges, their supporters urge them on in what seems to be a mortal combat for supremacy.

This is not just a soccer match. Bragging rights are at stake. But there is also more at stake as evidenced by health workers and HIV testing posts outside the soccer pitch.
A community non-governmental organisation (NGO) in this rural area 25 kilometres south-east of Maseru, Thembalethu, has taken to sports to fight the spread of HIV and crime: two issues that have become a menace to the society.

Thembalethu Development was founded in April 2002 as a non-profit company and a community development agency for the mine sending countries (currently Sourth Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique).
It works with governments, the private sector, local and international donors to fight against new infections of HIV/AIDS.
One of its aims is to provide community focused interventions in collaboration with strategic partners in an integrated and sustainable manner within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Last Saturday, Thembalethu in collaboration with the police and Population Services International (PSI) organised a football match between Mokema FC and Linotši FC of Ha-Mahlelebe in Mokema village about 25 kilometres south of Maseru.
Thembalethu counselor, ’Mamosili Maliehe, told thepost that they are worried that local youths are engaging in risky behaviour that often leads them to crime and pre-marital as well as extra-marital sex.

Maliehe said Thembalethu decided to hold the football match between the two neighbouring villages to show the youths that they can win the war against crime and HIV through sports.
She believes in the adage “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. Keeping the youths busy means they will not have time to commit crimes or engage in sexual relationships, she said.
Maliehe said the organisation also used such sporting events to disseminate educational information to the youths.

Youths aged between 18 and 35 years were sensitised on HIV and tuberculosis infections and how they can take care of themselves and their loved ones.
New Start, an NGO focusing on helping Basotho know their HIV status, had gazebos around the football pitch where the youth voluntarily went for counseling and testing.
Nutrition experts were also present to teach the youths about the importance of a balanced diet.

‘‘We encourage them to grow crops, eat nutritious food and attend health services when there is need,’’ Maliehe said.
Since its establishment in 2002, Thembalethu Development has implemented various programmes in Lesotho such as community based health programmes, water and sanitation, agriculture and food security.

Maliehe said the major challenge was of people who have lost hope in NGOs due to broken promises.
‘‘Since our arrival, we have regained their trust,’’ she said.
‘‘Spending time with them gives them hope that we are there to assist with all we have. Realising that they believe in us is very exciting,’’ she said.
The programme is coming to an end in December 2018. Therefore the organisation is hoping for a continued support for expansion of the programme for other areas in Lesotho.
‘‘We already have people in other districts calling out for help as they love and appreciate what we do,’’ she said.

The chief in Mokema, Teketsi Maama, expressed appreciation for the efforts by Thembalethu, saying the sporting event helped foster unity in the community.
Nkeane Makhaba, speaking on behalf of Ha-Mahlelebe chief, shared Chief Maama’s sentiments.
He appealed to youths to work together with the organisation to fight the temptation to engage in illegal activities.

Ha-Mofoka police commander, Senior Inspector of Motlalehi Phihlela, urged youths to grab the opportunities that came their way.
He urged them to take education seriously, describing it as the key to a successful future.

‘‘Take advantage, prepare your mindsets, allow yourselves to be educated and make our work easier in assisting you to be good, responsible men,’’ he said.
He said the police and other community leaders will continue supporting the youths “so that they will not feel lost at a certain stage of growth”.
‘‘We support you because we are aware that in most cases, many youths get attracted to bad things instead of clinging to the good,’’ he said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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