Grassroot Soccer’s MindSKILLZ Magazine is a simple, take-home resource that aims to fill a critical gap in mental health education and engage young people’s families in positive mental health promotion. In 2022, with the support of the global USAID Youth Excel project and partner IREX, Grassroot Soccer distributed 2,344 MindSKILLZ Magazines to youth living with HIV (YLHIV) in Zambia and evaluated the effectiveness and relevance of the Magazine to promote mental well-being. You can read about the findings of the evaluation here.

Raymond Tapiseni is a Grassroot Soccer Zambia Coach who has been working with YLHIV using the MindSKILLZ Magazine. In this blog post, he shares how he has seen the Magazine making a positive change in his community.

My name is Raymond Tapiseni. In 2015, when I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with HIV and I thought my dreams were shattered. At that point, I did not have enough information about HIV, and the only thing I could think about was that death was in the corridors, and I might not ever be able to achieve my goals. But then Grassroot Soccer (GRS) came to my rescue.

I first heard about GRS in 2016 at University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, where the organization was delivering SKILLZ Plus interventions for adolescent boys and girls living with HIV. Being part of a support group through SKILLZ Plus made me realize that I was not alone and I could connect with other young people with the same HIV status as me. This sense of belonging boosted my self-esteem and inspired me to become a peer educator.

I was trained as a SKILLZ Plus Coach in 2018, in Chipata District of Eastern Province of Zambia, while I was volunteering at Chipata Central Hospital as a peer educator. The SKILLZ Plus program has had a significant impact on my life. I am now able to provide mentorship and important health information to other adolescents living with HIV, while modeling and adhering to healthy behaviors myself. Being able to stand in front of a group has also made me a good public speaker, which is a vital part of facilitation and has helped me serve in a leadership role as a College president during my time at University, where I graduated as a registered nurse.

In March 2022, I distributed Grassroot Soccer’s MindSKILLZ Magazines to SKILLZ Plus participants in my community. The Magazine is a fun, soccer-themed resource that empowers adolescents living with HIV with critical mental well-being information to navigate their mental health challenges. Mental health is a big problem faced by many young people today, and it is an especially pressing challenge for youth living with HIV. The Magazine provides strategies to deal with these challenges and helps youth living with HIV realize that problems do have solutions. 

I received positive feedback from participants about the Magazine. Some told me they liked the Magazine because of its appearance and the way it was designed, and that the cover made them eager to check out the content inside. Others highlighted to me that the Magazine is an amazing resource for them because it helps them to cope with stress, which is common amongst young people, especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic and this current period where we are coming out of the lockdowns.

I was impressed by how the Magazine led participants to open up and share the lessons they were learning about mental health with other young people. For example, I heard how some were persuaded to read the Magazine by their friends who had already learned a lot from it. One story that stands out to me was of one 11-year-old participant who told me that he sought assistance from his older sister to help him understand some information inside the Magazine, which meant the sister also got the opportunity to learn about mental health. Some participants also approached me personally to get more clarity on topics that they did not understand, which opened up the opportunity for meaningful conversations. 

Parents and guardians also had positive feedback about the Magazine. They said that the Magazine brings them together as a family for discussions, and that they got to understand their children better as they realized the importance of mental health. There are parents who used to call us and complain about their children’s bad behavior. However, we noticed that they suddenly stopped calling. When I asked about this, they said that they have noticed some improvements in the behavior of their children because of the MindSKILLZ Magazines we had handed out.

Parents also noticed how their children were sharing the information that they gained from the Magazine with their friends. As one parent told me, after graduation from the SKILLZ Plus program, many of the participants did ‘make their move’ in the community by sharing information from the Magazine with their peers. 

The only challenge I encountered with the Magazine is that there were a few participants who could not read. So they needed help from their family members, and as a caring Coach, I also helped several young people to overcome the literacy barrier and learn from the Magazine.

Seeing the impact that the Magazine has had in the community is amazing. I never thought the Magazine could create such positive change so quickly!