Coach MarilynMarilyn, age 26, is a Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Coach in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Marilyn is part of a unique GRS programme called “SKILLZ+”, which is designed to help HIV+ youth understand the risks that they face, build the life skills they need to make healthy choices, develop trust, and tackle stigma. Participants become part of the SKILLZ Club, which is run by HIV+ Coaches who can share similar life experiences and become trusted mentors in guiding those who test positive through important issues such as acceptance, disclosure, healthy living, and adherence to treatment.

Here Marilyn tells her story in her own words:

Growing Up HIV-Positive:

“My life wasn’t easy growing up. I lived with my mother up until she passed away from HIV in 1999, my grandmother then took me in at the age of nine. With time I started showing symptoms that were unusual and I could not understand…[M]y grandmother…decided to take me to the hospital for some tests including HIV tests. After the results came out she could not accept that I was HIV positive…We went for a second round of HIV tests and still the results were the same. After going through counselling she finally admitted and accepted that I was infected at birth. As for me I was young and did not know what it meant to be HIV positive.”

Facing Stigma:

“My life at home also changed once people found out I was HIV positive. It was as if I could infect everyone in my circle, it was hard to adjust to their reactions. I could not play with anyone because I was told not to get too close to anyone. At home I had my own plate, spoon, cup and seat.”

How She Got Involved with Grassroot Soccer:

“I joined Grassroot Soccer after a pilot intervention for HIV positive adolescents that GRS conducted in 2011, I was one of the participants…[I] was later on identified and trained as a coach in 2012 to deliver the program to other HIV positive adolescents.”

What She’s Learned Through Grassroot Soccer:

“When I joined Grassroot Soccer Zimbabwe I was a very shy person and socialising with other people was very difficult for me. I was very ignorant about my health especially pertaining to HIV & AIDS and how to live positively… After working as a SKILLZ Coach for Grassroot Soccer I learnt to associate with other people..and be open about issues surrounding behaviour change, sexual reproduction health, gender- based violence, STI’s and HIV / AIDS.”

How Grassroot Soccer Has Helped Her Treatment:

“I am now careful with my medication and love interacting with my peers as we share our life experiences. GRS helps me access free health advice, gives me support in adhering to my medication and teaches me about HIV, my rights especially as a young lady and basic behaviour norms.”

Being a Role Model and Agent of Change:

“I was afraid to stand up in my community and speak, but now I find myself being a change-maker in my community. I am finally seeing a pathway to becoming an effective role model… Now I can relate my own personal experiences to my peers and how being at Grassroot Soccer has enabled me to overcome the challenges that I have faced in my personal life… It humbles me to know that I am doing something in my life and effecting a change in my community while teaching others to live healthy and positive lives.”