Soccer Balls Encourage Young Men in Kenya to Learn about Health


For all the obvious reasons, the toughest audience to attract to health education is young men. They don’t see themselves ever getting sick, they don’t think ahead, and they don’t like the idea of sitting in a health training session for an hour or two. WiRED’s programs draw a wide spectrum of people from the community . . . but not many young men.


In order to achieve community immunity, where a large portion of the population has basic health awareness, no demographic can be left behind; but what inducement will spur young men to learn about health? The answer is sports, and in Kenya the big draw is football (soccer to Americans).


Brad Pollard, who works with a soccer league south of San Francisco, offered to provide WiRED Director Gary Selnow, Ph.D., with a few soccer balls that he could give away to teams in Kisumu during his recent trip. Soccer teams there practice often with homemade balls, so getting a real soccer ball is appealing.


The deal was that in order to get a soccer ball, the adult team leaders would agree to bring in their players for health training. Dr. Selnow and the WiRED staff tried out this recruiting tactic in Obunga, an area of Kisumu, where several soccer teams came together for a health education session using the WiRED module on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). WiRED staffers Denis Onyango and Joseph Otiende set up the program.


Dr. Selnow said, “I sat in on that session and was intrigued by the fixed attention of the audience as Joseph went through detailed and often graphic displays of the most common STIs. During the Q&A sessions, it became evident that these young men had never had a frank discussion about STIs — what causes them, their signs and symptoms, treatments and, in some cases, the irreversible consequences of contracting these diseases.”


What Dr. Selnow found is that sports offered an opportunity to introduce young men to health issues — first STIs, to be followed by a range of topics including family planning, diet and exercise, basic anatomy and illness fundamentals. Moving forward, WiRED will explore partnerships with U.S. based sports teams to help foster the health training opportunities in the low-resource regions where WiRED works.



WiRED Volunteers Send Donations to Kisumu


In addition to soccer balls, Dr. Selnow brought other donated articles to the Kisumu community.


The WiRED team handed out 400 toothbrushes to school children in Kisumu, donated by WiRED volunteers. Following a training session using WiRED’s Dental Hygiene Module, the staff distributed the toothbrushes to the joy of the children. Although children in the community begin life with beautiful smiles, they often develop serious dental problems as adults due to poor dental hygiene. Learning how to keep the mouth, teeth, gums and tongue clean and healthy is essential to their overall health.


Dr. Selnow also brought a large duffel bag of donated clothes for the Kisumu children. Many of these children are orphans or too poor to have ever had anything new.


WiRED is grateful to donors for items taken to Kisumu this year. Their generosity complements WiRED’s health education programs and furthers the goals of health diplomacy.