NAIROBI, October 4 – Alive & Kicking Kenya, the local chapter of United Kingdom based charity Alive & Kicking has adopted a unique way to educate young people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
Since its inception four years ago, the organization has produced over 100,000 balls for both the local and international market, each emblazoned with a specific message for their target market.
Martin Barnard, director of Alive and Kicking says that conveying the message through balls is only a stop gap measure in the quest to highlight the dangers of HIV.
“Putting messages on our balls that preach HIV awareness is not just enough to combat the scourge. We have to address the underlying problem which is poverty,” said Barnard.
Poverty alleviation together with creating awareness about the AIDS scourge and supplying children from poor communities with cheap and repairable balls constitutes the goals that A&K hope to achieve.
Throughout the campaign, they have enlisted the help of local sports celebrities most notably world marathon champion Catherine Ndereba, Harambee Stars and Auxerre striker Dennis Oliech and boxer Conjestina Ochieng.
Barnard says the involvement of this role models coupled with the opportunity for young people to interact with them has had a profound influence so far.
“When you provide a forum for kids to participate in sports, they keep themselves out of trouble and at the same time improves their physical wellbeing,” says Barnard who has run the organization since its establishment.
From its workshop in Embakasi, A&K has transformed the lives of the youth and its workers for who stitch the balls, in the process creating 125 jobs.
“Most of the people we’ve hired used to work for a local sports manufacturing company that folded in the mid 1990s, so their expertise helps us produce top quality balls,” Barnard says while taking Capital Sport through the ball making process at one of the workshops on Mombasa Road.
The balls are made from leather supplied to A&K from Bata. Thirty two hexagonal panels which have been passed through a screen for various designs are hand stitched with polyester cotton thread.
An easily repairable latex bladder is inserted and the final seam is sown on before the ball is inflated and passed on for inspection to make sure there are no leaks.
The balls, which range from size four to five are then deflated and then packaged for distribution.
Their target market includes 24,000 schools, non-governmental organizations and corporate bodies with corporate social responsibility programmes.
In addition to HIV/AIDS, the dangers of malaria and tuberculosis are also being highlighted in A&K’s campaign.
Malaria is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Kenya, particularly among pregnant women and children under 5.
Studies in Kenya suggest that between 20 – 25 percent of all deaths can be attributed to the disease.
It is this high prevalence rates of this diseases that A&K recently launched roadshows in Suba and Machakos districts.
The Machakos which was launched last month in collaboration with the Safaricom Foundation will pass through 40 schools in the district.
Barnard who has resided in Kenya since 1980 paints a bleak picture of the situation in Suba in Nyanza province which has the highest prevalence rate of HIV nationally.
“We have girls as young as 14 years old who have lost their parents and young siblings to bring up selling their bodies just to make ends meet,” said Barnard.
On a visit to Zambia to promote A&K, Barnard ran into an official of Europe’s football governing body UEFA who was impressed with what the organization was doing that they ordered 1000 balls for their development programme.
“The balls we produce for this market are made of synthetic leather which is suitable for European weather because the moisture just slides and doesn’t seep into the ball,” says Barnard showing Capital a ball made for Puma.
UEFA together with the Confederation of African Football placed an order in 2006 for 81,000 over two years to be distributed to schools all over Africa through their national football associations.
Local supermarket Nakumatt is also supporting the charity by having A&K balls on sale.
The partnerships don’t end there as A&K have been asked to supply balls for the ‘SCORE4africa’ awards which is being organized by African development think tank and charity AFFORD.
The awards hope to raise awareness of the huge contribution African footballers make to African development.
Some of the famous names that have been signed up include former World Footballer of the Year George Weah, former French stalwart Marcelle Dessaily, Newcastle hitman Obafemi Martins, Chelsea ace Didier Drogba and Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp.