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Healthy living through football

 Street News Service 30 August 2019

For one football team in Kenya, getting to the 2010 World Cup wasn't just a matter of winning games. Qualifying meant running football clinics for local children, setting up community vegetable gardens and giving lectures on nutrition. The real goal for Kichwa Tembo Football Club was not sporting success but promoting healthy living in their local community. (937 Words) - By Rebekah Kendal

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SNS(EU)_African football team promotes healthy living goals

 The Kichwa Tembo football club help set up a community vegetable garden. Photo &Beyond.

Let me tell you a story about a humble soccer team from Kenya that made it all the way to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Ah, I know what you are thinking: the Kenyan national team didn't qualify for the World Cup. You're right. But this story isn't about the national team; it's about something so much better.

The Kichwa Tembo Football Club, based in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, is part of &Beyond's 'Goal is Life' initiative. Three years ago, as part of its Positive Health initiative, the luxury travel company launched a competitive soccer programme for the employees at its 42 lodges spread across Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania.

The programme was developed to inspire staff members to have goals and to promote physical and mental wellbeing. The prize for the three teams which won the competition in the years leading up to the World Cup was a trip to Nelspruit to watch one of the World Cup games.

However, getting to the World Cup wasn't just about winning games - the team also needed to score points by implementing community initiatives. For the Kichwa Tembo football club, this included conducting football clinics at a local primary school, establishing vegetable gardens in the nearby Kawai community, relocating and establishing new bee hives for a local community, and conducting nutrition lectures for residents of nearby villages.

The Goal is Life programme is only partly about the end result; for the most part, it is about finding a way to live healthier and more positive lives. In its aims, the Positive Health initiative goes some way to meeting a number of Millennium Development Goals - eradicating hunger, combating HIV/Aids, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Elsje van Wyk, who drives &Beyond's Positive Health programme, explains that the initiative is important because it empowers people to take control of their health.

"By empowering people to take care of themselves - placing the ball of health care in their lap - you make them feel they are important… They must have the choice to be healthy and they need to take the road forward themselves. We can only advise and support the process. That way it also becomes sustainable."

The initiative, which has reached at least 35 000 people, started with a book by research psychologist Neil Orr called Positive Health. Orr and his partner David Patient, a motivational speaker who has been living with HIV for 26 years, were rolling out a national health initiative in Mozambique when the work that they were doing came to the attention of a key player at &Beyond.

According to &Beyond CEO Debbie Meyer, the work that Orr and Patient were doing around HIV resonated with the company's founding principles: Care of the Land. Care of the Wildlife. Care of the People.

In 2003, &Beyond, with the help of Orr and Patient, launched its own Positive Health initiative. It started with two training sessions - one in Kenya and one in South Africa - for 240 staff members, community members and members of NGOs surrounding the lodges.

"Each of the two launch sessions trained 120 people in HIV/Aids prevention, plus how to become caregivers for people living with life-threatening illnesses, as well as how to be counsellors on health, nutrition and psychological wellbeing," explains Meyer.

The training, which includes information on diet, natural vitamins and affordable foodstuffs, takes a holistic approach to health, HIV and mental wellbeing.

"HIV does not operate in isolation and all the programmes we saw did, which simply perpetuated stigma and discrimination," says David Patient. "So we decided back in 2002 to mainstream HIV within a broader context of health… Key to the success was teaching people about the basics of their immune systems so they could finally see their role in their own health."

For Connie Nyundu, the Assistant Lodge Manager at the Ngala Safari Lodge, the initiative is all about taking a practical, pro-active approach to life - make sure you have a balanced diet, drink lots of water, limit the intake of alcohol and caffeine, exercise, manage your stress, and make sure you're getting enough sleep.

"Try to bring a good atmosphere to work and at home," advises Nyundu, "because that is where you spend a lot of your time. Try to share something that is hurting with anyone you trust."

However, the programme is not only about changing your own behaviour, but also about passing the training on to others in the community. For Patient this is one of the most rewarding aspects of the initiative.

"One of the key principles of the training is that you must teach it forward to other people, otherwise it has no value."

Proof that the programme is working can be seen in the vegetable gardens and nutrition projects which have sprung up in the local communities, in the fact that more people visit clinics and are on chronic medication, in the improved quality of work and low staff turnover, and in the fact that fewer staff members are dying.

"The biggest success of the initiative is reflected in how the staff cares and takes charge of their Positive Health programme," says Van Wyk. "Each one will have a way of making it part of their lives and it creates excitement. They feel they can make it part of their life. It is achievable - you just need to make a choice."

&Beyond's Positive Health initiative clearly provides a good model for corporate responsibility, but can other companies follow the example?

"Yes, provided you have buy-in from staff members," says Meyer. "Pivotal to its success are staff who volunteer to become Positive Health Champions, who are trained in the various modules of the programme and who then themselves go back and teach and implement what they have learnt in their communities, spreading the message far and wide."

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