Save Orphans, Kick AIDS and Abuse (SOKAA) is a gender-specific, culturally sensitive AIDS and abuse prevention program using sports as a vehicle to educate, engage and empower at-risk youth, equipping them with skills to improve their own lives and to serve as peer educators, impacting youth within their home communities.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and has engaged millions in skill development and the enrichment of lives. Even during moments of political, ethnic and socio-religious tension and feuds, nations across the world have united behind the sport.
As in all of South Africa, Swaziland life involves soccer as daily routine. Whether played with a homemade rag ball from the trash on a dirt field or a real soccer ball on a distant field, soccer is one of the few outlets to quell dark emotions of fear, frustration and grief that simmer in the hearts of teenagers. In a society where 67 percent of the rural population is below the poverty line, soccer is the sport and entertainment of choice because rubbish can be pressed into the shape of a ball, providing joy-filled moments even for the poorest of the poor. In a country where HIV/AIDS has destroyed the traditional safety nets and where children are growing up without a sense of permanence or community, soccer offers a hopeful prospect.
The SOKAA program will be a life-changing vehicle for girls, as much gender-based abuse occurs at the homestead, and sports gets girls engaged outside of their domestic environment. The program will encourage the kind of self-worth and confidence that would make a girl less likely to be victimized.
For boys SOKAA offers comparable life-changing skills, building self esteem and confidence, learning mutual respect, practicing goal setting, critical thinking and developing leadership skills.
In all empowerment programs, testing would become as routine as wearing the “jersey.”