Connections between siblings can be some of the strongest that individuals have in their lives. Phaless, a 20-year-old young woman residing in Chipata, Zambia, and her younger sister, Charity, 15, share a special relationship. The two spend a great deal of time together every day and, like many sisters do, are sources of support for one another.
When Phaless heard from a community member about Grassroot Soccer (GRS)’s SKILLZ Girl program, she did not hesitate to sign up – and invite her younger sister to join her.
Gender inequality, violence, economic exclusion, and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) information and services are just some of the compounding factors that contribute to a number of poor health outcomes for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, including high rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
GRS’s SKILLZ Girl curriculum is tailored to equip girls with the knowledge and life skills necessary to navigate these structural barriers and live healthier lives. At the core of the program are GRS’s female near-peer mentor Coaches, who create a safe space for girls to learn and improve their health and life skills assets, including their SRHR knowledge and the self-confidence to use it; facilitate access to youth-friendly health and social services; and promote adherence to healthy behaviors.
Prior to joining GRS, Phaless and Charity had not been provided with much information about HIV, living risk-free, and healthy behaviors. Participating in SKILLZ Girl helped them quickly fill this knowledge gap. “I learned about contraceptives and how these can keep me safe from diseases; I also learned the importance of knowing your status,” Phaless reflects. “Grassroot Soccer taught me about communication, how to communicate respectfully, and how to carry myself,” Charity adds. “It also helped me understand gender.”
Having completed the program, Phaless and Charity share that they feel more confident in their decision-making and are benefitting from a number of skills they gained from their SKILLZ Coach, Dalitso, such as being proactive and implementing healthy practices in their daily lives. Not only that, they are reaching out to their peers to share what they learned and encourage them. “I now tell my friends about healthy living and making the right decisions in life,” Charity says, “because decisions have consequences.”
And even though the program has ended, the sisters continue to have a strong relationship with Coach Dalitso, who emerged as a meaningful mentor in both girls’ lives.
Phaless and Charity recently sat for their grade 12 and grade 9 examinations, respectively. Phaless has plans to continue her involvement with GRS and become a Coach herself before pursuing a course in nursing. Charity currently serves as secretary for a youth group in the community and plans to study journalism when she finishes her secondary education.