A Role Model for Girls in Zimbabwe
Kwinji Sibanda is not only a coach and cornerstone of the Zimbabwean Grassroot Soccer team, but a strong role model for girls and soccer players alike in the communities of Bulawayo and throughout the country. Kwinji, 29 years old, joined GRS in 2002 and has helped GRS Co-Founder Methembe Ndvolu turn his vision of graduating thousands of Zimbabwean youths through our programs into a reality.
Soccer has been a focal point of Kwinji’s life for the past 15 years. She started playing in high school at the age of 14 and quickly found she had a natural talent for the sport. Soon Kwinji was playing for club teams and in 1998 landed a spot as a midfielder on the National Zimbabwean Women’s Team, which at the time was ranked 4th in Africa. With her renowned leadership and energy on and off the field, Kwinji promptly earned the respect of her teammates and fans.
As her popularity grew, Kwinji attracted a loyal following of supporters that admired her athletic skills, confidence and presence on the team. As her fan base of young girls continued to expand, Kwinji became keenly aware that it wasn’t just her behavior on the field that left an impression. Her influence as a national celebrity extended to all aspects of her lifestyle, including very personal choices such as her stance on sex, drugs and alcohol.
Kwinji acknowledged that along with increased privilege came responsibility, and she wanted to do something about it. The young footballer joined Grassroot Soccer when she was 21 and has spent the last 8 years leveraging her prominent profile to promote healthy choices and address the peer pressures that confront children and young adults.
As a founding member of the GRS Zimbabwean team, Kwinji was able to exert her influence on the content and delivery of the curriculum. She ensured that the Grassroot Soccer program not only resonated with kids, but was compatible with the nuances of the local customs and Zimbabwean culture. She wanted to target young participants as she found they were the most receptive to new information and curious to learn more. Kwinji knew the key to social change would be to engage future generations through the medium of soccer, a language they would really understand. She says:
“Through Grassroot Soccer we can help each child early on so they can plan a healthy life. They are our future leaders and look up to us. We need to help them plan. We need them to be better leaders than we are. We need them to create an even stronger tomorrow.”
Kwinji has found that her role in the community expands beyond the activities in the classroom and on the field. She is often approached by teammates, family members and friends looking for the facts, “How do you get HIV?”, “Where do I get tested?”, “If I’m positive… then what?”. As an approachable and trusted figure, Kwinji has come to embody health, truth, and a progressive way forward.
Kwinji remains committed to her mission of breaking down the barriers of social stigma and disseminating knowledge about HIV. Now a senior member of Grassroot Soccer and the assistant coach for the Zimbabwe Women’s National Football Team, she has reconciled her love of teaching and passion for sport. Kwinji is confident that Grassroot Soccer will persevere for years to come, reaching more kids and galvanizing hope for a promising future.