We are continuing to spotlight former Grassroot Soccer (GRS) participants from over the past two decades, where they are now, and how participating in GRS programs helped them get to where they are in life today.

GRS supports adolescent girls to develop their leadership skills and self-efficacy, which can empower them to be confident, emerge as role models making a positive change in their communities, and achieve their goals in life. GRS’s Praise Dlakama recently caught up with Blessing Ngwenya, a former SKILLZ participant from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe who has become a community role model as a SKILLZ Coach and a youth health facilitator. Blessing’s journey as a game-changer started at home by influencing her siblings to be resistant to peer pressure and focus on their goals in life, before expanding to bring important lessons learned through GRS to youth throughout her entire community. 

Praise: Tell us a little about yourself and how you’ve been involved with Grassroot Soccer (GRS).

Blessing: My name is Blessing Ngwenya. I was a GRS participant in 2012 before I became a SKILLZ Coach in 2020. As a participant, I did the SKILLZ Core program at primary school and the SKILLZ Girl curricula at secondary school. 

[SKILLZ Core is a mixed-gender intervention for very young adolescents aged 9-14 that focuses on social asset building and introduces core sexual and reproductive health topics during puberty, a time of profound change for young people. SKILLZ Girl is an evidence-based intervention for girls aged 13-19 that empowers them with basic information to make healthy choices about their sexual and reproductive health while developing their leadership and life skills.]

What memories do you have about GRS?

The memory I have about GRS is that it was a home to many; a place where you could just go to have fun and at the same time learn a lot about life. It’s a place where I got to learn more about life and how to overcome the challenges that I faced as a teenager. I was given the opportunity to interact with other young people. It was a place where we could exchange ideas and information.

What was your favorite part about participating in GRS? 

The energizers, the activities, the SKILLZ culture – I just enjoyed everything about GRS! I am who I am because of GRS.

What were the most important things you learned from GRS?

I learned how to be able to stand up for myself, to be able to protect myself from risky behaviors such as abusing drugs and alcohol. Temptations are many, especially peer pressure from friends to date someone older than you because you stand to gain financially from the relationship. But I knew how to ‘Say No’ and mean it at the same time. 

I also learned how to interact with other young people and I gained self confidence. [Before GRS], I was always that quiet girl; when I got to a place where there were a lot of people, I would just sit at the corner and keep quiet. But after joining GRS I gained the confidence that I can be out there and showcase my talent without being shy.

After participating in GRS’s SKILLZ programs, you yourself went on to become a SKILLZ Coach. How did GRS change how you viewed yourself and your role within the community?

As a teenager, you live a carefree life not minding what you are doing. But once I became part of the SKILLZ team, I felt like a community icon and a role model. I knew how to conduct myself in the community as a young girl so that I inspire positive change. I felt I had the responsibility to help the other young people in my community, and I started at home with my little sisters by making sure they also became part of SKILLZ programs and could access the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services that were offered by the organization. 

Blessing (center) with her younger siblings.

What was your favorite SKILLZ activity you played at GRS?

My favorite activity was “Game Changer.” It was about someone who brings change in the community, who stands up for the community, and works hard to protect the community from risky behaviors such as unprotected sex and fighting discrimination against people living with HIV.

What did you tell your family members about GRS? How did they respond?

I told my family about GRS and my dad was the happiest. Him being a soccer person, he supported me when I was a participant and he encouraged me to become a SKILLZ Coach. My little sisters then became part of the program because of me. They were so eager to join GRS because I led them by example, since I am the eldest. Right now, they are all doing well at school and they are focused on their goals.

What are you doing now?

I’m a facilitator at the Zimbabwe Health Interventions (ZHI) in the DREAMS program [DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe) is a PEPFAR-support package of interventions aimed at reducing rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in the highest HIV burden countries.] I am also pursuing a degree in Social Sciences. In the future, I want to start something that will benefit the community, just like what Grassroot Soccer did for me.