SEDYEA is a charity combating AIDS in Botswana
It uses football to prevent the spread and raise awareness
Its work "has had a big impact, especially among girls"
"Everything began in 2005, when the country was facing a terrible AIDS epidemic," says Kitso Masi, explaining to FIFA.com the genesis of the South East District Youth Empowerment Association (SEDYEA), in which she serves as executive director. "You have to understand that Botswana is among the countries worst affected by the disease in the world."
That same year, as Botswana's average life expectancy plummeted from 65 in 1990 to just 35 (according to a UNAIDS study), numerous initiatives were launched across the country to fight the disease's spread. Among them, SEDYEA chose football as a means of promoting prevention and education among youngsters aged nine to 18.
"Our goal was to raise awareness among young people through sport, inspired by efforts being made in Kenya," says Masi. "We realised that a passion for football brought youngsters together in a very effective way. That's an age when people don't like to be lectured but prefer to be appreciated and allowed to shine. Football is perfect for that and makes it possible to pass on messages and strengthen social bonds in our community."
Masi recalls one episode in particular which highlighted the educational power of the game: "One day, a boy was playing in a match for the U-12s and scored a fantastic goal. Instead of celebrating his goal and taking all the glory, he ran towards the player who had given him the pass and embraced him. That showed he had fully absorbed the idea of working together and that he'd understood we need others to succeed."
"SEDYEA has had a big impact, especially among girls," adds Masi. "They've been able to flourish by building confidence in themselves and their abilities, which also allows them to avoid abusive situations of every kind, notably by insisting on safe sex.
"There are youngsters who spent time in our programme who now play for the men's and women's national teams and represent our country, which shows you SEDYEA's potential in a dramatic way. Overall, we've noted that many of them have been able to find a job and are really blossoming as individuals."
Above all, the original goal is close to being met thanks to a widespread national effort. A policy of free and universal healthcare has ensured that a large percentage of the people living with AIDS are now being looked after, and this year Botswana reaffirmed its objective of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 (source: UNAIDS)