Bo, Sierra Leone --Liverpool FC, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Manchester United FC, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid… these are the logos of some the world’s popular football clubs that adorn the outer walls of the youth-friendly cinema hall of the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone (PPASL) health center in Bo. Bo is Sierra Leone’s second largest city, located in the Eastern region.
Undoubtedly, soccer is one of the most loved sport in the country. In almost every open space –from the sandy beaches of Freetown in the capital city to the countryside and all across the country, you will not miss to see groups of young people playing the sport. Little boys, adolescents, teenagers, youth and adults alike look for every opportunity they can to kick ball. As they do so, tens, hundreds and even thousands of fans line the makeshift pitches, cheering their stars on.
Football is a game that brings Sierra Leonians together and is the perfect conversation starter for many, especially boys and men. They have many role models to look up to in the country, such as Mohamed Kallon and Kei Kamara -Sierra Leone’s most-loved football stars who are also revered at the international level due to their prowess in the sport.
To enhance male involvement in sexual and reproductive health issues, PPASL has successfully tapped into this opportunity by using football to reach adolescent boys and young men with life-saving reproductive health information and services.
At the PPASL youth-friendly cinema hall in Bo is a television set that broadcasts different premier league soccer matches –both local and international, featuring popular football clubs. Boys and young men stream in and out of the cinema hall at different times of the day and week, depending on the matches being broadcast.
“The cinema hall is a hot spot for the young male folk in Bo, and is particularly busy on Saturdays and Sundays when they are not in school, college or at work. Unlike other cinema halls in Bo that charge a fee, access to the PPASL youth-friendly cinema hall is free of charge. This helps in attracting more of them to the hall,” says Richard Lamin, the Youth Action Movement Chairperson of PPASL’s Bo region.
Richard Lamin, YAM Chair, Bo
Regular screening of football matches at the cinema hall means regular engagement of these young people. It is a great opportunity to offer education on sexual reproductive health. During half-time, PPASL peer educators carry out informative talks with the audience. They share information on different topics such as the importance of knowing one’s HIV status, the practice of safe sex, drugs and substance abuse, peer pressure, and information on Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). The peer educators also conduct condom demonstrations.
Documentaries on HIV and AIDS, safe sex behaviour, teen pregnancies, STIs and related topics are also broadcast during breaks between the football games. These are usually interactive sessions, where the audience asks various questions in a bid to broaden their understanding on sexual health.
“Throughout the football screenings, there is a ‘help desk’ at a corner in the cinema hall, where the youth can access a wide range of information material on sexual and reproductive health. The material includes leaflets, booklets, pamphlets and brochures. Both male and female condoms are given to the youth for free. A volunteer peer educator with PPASL’s Youth Action Movement (YAM) is always present to provide additional information and counseling,” says Lamin.
For those who need to know their HIV status, Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) services are available at the PPASL youth-friendly clinic, located within the same compound. Those who need family planning services, STI treatment or other services can also access them at the youth-friendly clinic.
Lamin says that each month, the cinema hall directly reaches about 120 youth with information and services about their sexual reproductive health.
“The cinema hall acts as a safe space for adolescents and youth to learn more about their sexual and reproductive health, while engaging in something they love; soccer. It is indeed an effective way that enables them to make better and informed choices about their health and well-being, hence scoring goals for sexual and reproductive health!”.
Maryanne W. Waweru is the Governance and Compliance Officer, IPPF Africa Region.