It’s 7:30am on a Saturday morning in the middle of May. The sun may have just risen above Lake Victoria to the East, but there are already nearly 75 young refugees from our u12, u16 and u23 boys teams, and our u14 and u16 girls teams, pacing around the SWB Youth Center, eagerly awaiting the day’s Tackle Africa Tournament!
Tackle Africa, one of our regional partners, uses football to teach youth and adults critical information about HIV, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT). This is all achieved by partnering with community-based organizations, like SWB, and other community football coaches. Three times per year, SWB hosts a week-long, Tackle Africa led, coaches training for its staff and other Nsambya community coaches. During this training, coaches are instructed on how to properly lead football drills tailored with specific HIV, VCT and SRHR messages. Each coach then leads a block of 10 such sessions with their football team, at the end of which we all come together for a one-day sports gala.
Now, back to tournament day. By 8:00am, it’s started raining steadily. Apparently Mother Nature did not get the memo!! However, brimming with energy and excitement, our footballers would not let the rain dampen their spirits today! The tournament was opened by SWB’s two girls teams, the Superstars and the Dolphins, squaring off. Unfortunately, none of the other coaches in this block of sessions had a girls team to bring; a sad, but common, reality for youth football in Uganda. Our girls did not mind though, playing a nail-biting 30 minutes through the rain, finally ending in a 1-0 victory for the older Superstars team.
Coach Jules and the u16 boys
The surface was then divided into two smaller pitches for the u12 and u16 boys. Led by Coach Ramos, SWB’s u12s played three fun matches against some tough competition, finishing the day with a record of 1-1-1. Coach Jules and the u16s (the defending champions) were up next and won their opening two matches, earning a spot in the semi-finals. Each goal they scored was followed by a scream from SWB’s girls and a series of cartwheels and flips from the u12 boys watching on the sidelines! It was a truly inspiring spectacle! Their good form continued into the semi-finals, earning a hard-fought draw against the Hampton Warriors, resulting in a penalty shootout. With over 100 spectators surrounding the goal, and despite an excellent save from goalkeeper Arsene, the u16s were edged out 4-3 on penalties, ending their time on the pitch.
The Superstars team cheering on the u16 boys
Free VCT is also provided by health professionals throughout the tournament, which gives a chance for all participants and community passersby to learn their HIV status. It was excellent to see many of our participants take advantage of these free services between matches, proving the effectiveness of the Tackle Africa sessions. A light lunch of pilau rice, beef and Irish potatoes was also served to each player and coach during the afternoon, a warm meal well worth the wait!
With tournament play winding down, the Girls teams played another fun game and the Super Stars won again, 1-0. For their great sportsmanship, the two teams were awarded 3 new soccer balls, and each goal scorer was given a new washing basin to take home. Late into the day, the u23s, lead by Coach Aldo, kick started their game against Nkele FC, playing full pitch since the younger age groups had finished their games. The match was lively and fast-paced with neither team willing to back down. It ended 0-0 resulting in an elimination round of penalty kicks. With a huge crowd of both children and adults watching, SWB smashed their fifth and final kick off the crossbar, losing the match, but winning over some fans!
Overall, it was a great, fun-filled day of football and health education, and both our kids and coaches are eager to start the next block of sessions with Tackle Africa!