Note: The following first-hand story comes directly from on of our Grassroot Soccer Zambia coaches.

Coach Inonge in action

Coach Inonge (left) in action

My name is Inonge Mulungushi; I am from the Woodlands area of Lusaka and have been a GRS Zambia Coach for five years. I became interested in becoming a GRS Coach because of the outreach that GRS provided to the youth in the school. Being a Coach was an opportunity for me to learn more about HIV & AIDS, as well as other issues, and to talk with the youth in my community. When I was growing up, there was no one for me to speak to about these issues in an open way. Finding a peer to speak with helps you feel more comfortable and makes it easier to open up with someone other than your parents. Becoming a GRS Coach gave me the opportunity to be that peer for others who needed that.

Grassroot Soccer has inspired me in so many ways. The most significant conversation I have had with a participant came after the 3rd practice activities “Find the Ball” and “My Supporters.” After the practice, a girl walked up to me. She was trying to open up and reveal her status to me because it was difficult for her to disclose to her friends. She told me she already goes to TTF (Tiny Tim & Friends) – (ed.note: TTF, a partner with GRS, is a local clinic that specializes in care for pediatric AIDS patients) for these services every last Saturday of the month. I asked her “What do you go and do there?”  She said,  “We do GRS activities.” I continued to let her talk. “How did you find yourself in the program?” I asked. She said, “My mom helped me to get enrolled in the program.” “Do you know why you go there?” I said. At first she kept quiet and changed the subject. I allowed her to keep sharing and she eventually said to me, “Everyone who goes there knows their status and they are counseled to say we are HIV positive and taught to accept it. We are taught not to feel shy, not to feel discriminated, and not to feel stigmatized.”

She finally disclosed, “I am already HIV positive.”

“It’s ok,” I said. “You are not a bad person. You can’t run away from sharing the desks, sharing food, and other everyday activities that are not a risk for transmission. All you have to do is be ready. It’s about you being ready to say it. It’s all about timing.” She began to cry, and I comforted and calmed her down. She told me, “Thanks, I haven’t talked to someone the way I have talked to you. You have helped me bring out my emotions.” It was just the 3rd practice. We barely knew each other and she really opened up to me.

I learned how we come out in interventions makes us a role model and an advisor for the participants and their personal experiences. It showed me that I could be trusted. People just approach me, even in town. Sometimes I feel like people want to ask me for money and surprisingly they just start telling me their issues. It makes me ask myself: how do people look at me and how do I carry myself? My personality can bring out the truth in someone else, and that is what it’s about. It’s about being real. Not pretending to be someone you are not.

The most significant change I have observed in myself is practicing what I preach. I can only be a better coach if the lessons I learn and teaching I provide are lived first hand by me. I have become stronger as a person because of our coaches and the bond we have. And how could I forget, the love. We love and care for each other so much. That is the best experience ever! Its because of them I have been able to grow as a person in all areas of my life and to be a better GRS Coach.