Dr. Tommy Clark understands the power of soccer. Growing up with a father who played on the Scottish national team then coached in Zimbabwe, Dartmouth and Notre Dame — and playing on the Zimbabwean Highlanders professional team himself, Clark was a daily witness to the way children flocked around the players in hero worship, and how a soccer ball could break down any social barrier. But as a young doctor, he also noticed another more sinister trend: his Zimbabwean friends and teammates were dying of AIDS and nobody was talking about it.
So in 2002, Clark decided to change up the HIV/AIDS game, and with three of his former teammates in Zimbabwe, he started Grassroots Soccer. Clark’s concept was to use African soccer stars as role models to change the way kids in the world’s most HIV-affected countries thought and felt about the disease. GRS developed an innovative, interactive, and culturally-sensitive curriculum called SKILLZ, taught by professional soccer players, coaches and educators, to give children life skills that will enable them to live HIV-free for life. Using soccer as a medium, kids are engaged in fun exercises on how to make healthy decisions, avoid risks, build support, reduce stigma and discrimination, and increase knowledge about testing and treatment. While they play, they learn.
And just like a good corner kick, Grassroots Soccer has taken off! From Zimbabwe in 2002, GRS has spread to 18 countries, shared its program with 25 implementing NGO partners, reached more than 300,000 children with Skillz, and proven the power of its message through research and constant innovation. In fact, GRS participants have been shown to be six times less likely to report early sexual debut, four times less likely to report sexual activity in the last year, and eight times less likely to report having more than one partner. Best of all, the Skillz grads take the word and spread it — teaching others what they have learned and becoming community advocates.
Nowhere is soccer more passionately embraced than at the World Cup, and Grassroots Soccer is going for the gold there, too – with 48 Skillz Holiday Programs designed to keep 5,000 kids safe and occupied during the 6-week extended holiday in South Africa, and Grassroots Soccer teams from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia playing in the Football for Hope Festival held between the semi-finals and finals, July 3-10.
When you see the mighty power of soccer to excite, engage and bring the world together, it’s incredibly hopeful to witness that energy being directed to combat the spread of AIDS. Kudos to Dr. Clark and all the soccer stars who are using their fame to Red Card this disease! My $100 will send four kids to a Skillz camp for a week, and hopefully keep them safe for a lifetime. To join me in donating, click here