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Friday, January 23, 2015

PC Skillz Intervention!

The coaches and certificate earning team members at our graduation.

For most of the last three weeks, my days have centered around studying ways to talk about relationships and HIV in Sesotho and playing with village youth.

 I have been doing a PC Skillz Intervention camp. PC Skillz is a joint venture between Peace Corps and Grassroot Soccer. It uses soccer-based games to teach life skills, positive living, and HIV/AIDS awareness. 

Although practices supposed to last for only an hour, most days I was playing with, talking to, or working with youth for 3-4 hours as practices usually took us between 90-120 minutes and the village kids would start arriving as much as two hours early and stay as long as possible to play with the "indestructible" One World Futbol. Add to that coach's meetings, making supplies, and translating pieces of the program with my brother and my entire universe has only been PC Skillz. 

The PC Skillz curriculum is a pretty fantastic experiential education curriculum. It reminded me of my favorite teaching moments in the US over the last decade.  

Over the eleven practices, we covered important topics like stigma and discrimination, abstinence, how HIV and ARVs affect the body, and how to avoid the riskiest behaviors for contracting HIV: unprotected sex, multiple partners, older partners, and combining sex and alcohol. Most practices we had 30-40 village youth from 9-19 despite having said the program was for 10-15 year old youth. In total, over 50 individuals attended at least one practice with more than half attended at least half of the practices. The Peace Corps Skillz program requires participants to attend at least eight practices to earn a certificate of completion, so only 18 received certificates. The others can come again next time we do the program to earn a coveted certificate. 

The coaching team after graduation:
Abuti Thabo, me, Abuti Ts'epo, and Ausi Mareisi
My co-coaches were absolutely amazing. While I was living, breathing, and sleeping PC Skillz, they were coaching with me a few hours a day and also working 6-9 hours in the fields! Every time they arrived, often just as we were starting practice, they were rushing back from the fields, but they always brought enthusiasm and a willingness to help. Prior to attending the PC Skillz training at the end of November, I worried about bringing my brother to the training as my counterpart. My brother is fantastic, but he is barely nineteen and still in high school. I worried that I was asking too much of him to coach his peers and younger teens in the village when talking about sensitive issues like HIV transmission, voluntary male medical circumcision, and sex. He was absolutely incredible though, both as my Sesotho back up-he seemed to know when to help and when to let me work out what I needed to say-and as a coach in his right. 

The youth were amazing too. Sometimes I wondered how much of the message was getting through between my poorly accented Sesotho and their reticence to speak up during Q&A and discussions. But at our graduation ceremony yesterday, it was obvious they knew their stuff. 

"Coach" Bolokang
For the graduation, in addition to bestowing certificates and taking over 100 photos (no really...the kids love having their picture taken, over and over again!), we ran through one of our earlier practices with some of the participants acting as coaches. When asked by their peers, the participants had every single answer they had hesitated to give over the last few weeks. It was wonderful!  
Coach Thabo telling a "Coach's Story."

I think my favorite thing about this particular intervention is that it really helped me get to know the youth in the village-their names, their personalities, etc. And it helped them get to know me and my personality, seeing me as a friend and mentor instead of just the smiling American who always says hello! 

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