MUSC student takes leap of faith on HIV/AIDS program in South Africa

By Matthew Husband

Molweni! My name is Matthew Husband and I am a first year Occupational Therapy Student at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Before arriving on campus, I had the opportunity to intern for a year with a non-profit organization, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. GRS uses the power of soccer to teach kids about HIV and AIDS. South Africa has the largest percentage of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the world—a total of roughly 6.2 million South Africans.

Upon acceptance in the program, I did not know what country I would be working in and in what capacity. It was a complete leap into the unknown. GRS works in 23 different countries, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, however GRS only sends interns to Zambia, Lesotho, and various cities in South Africa including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Kimberly, and Johannesburg. After months of anticipation, I was placed as a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Intern in Port Elizabeth, a coastal city situated on the Indian Ocean and home to the Xhosa people. On August 12th, 2012 I said goodbye to family and friends and voyaged across the world to a new continent, country, city and culture ready to make an impact.

Before moving forward it is important to understand the background of Grassroot Soccer. Founder, Tommy Clark, MD conceived of the idea after having played soccer professionally in Zimbabwe where he witnessed firsthand both the devastation of HIV and the fanatical popularity of soccer. Together with a group of friends who had similar experiences, he and co-founders Methembe Ndlovu, Ethan Zohn and Kirk Friedrich created Grassroot Soccer. GRS works in elementary and high schools using curriculum that is age and gender specific. As an organization we believe that children are more likely to respond to curriculum taught by peers. Therefore, GRS employs local members of the community as peer educators (coaches, sticking to the soccer theme) to learn and teach the curriculum. Although, I never directly taught the kids, I did have a plethora of opportunities to visit schools and classrooms.

As the M&E Intern, my role was analyzing and restructuring our data collection process. GRS has graduated over 500,000 kids since the inception of the organization in 2002. My role was very important in finding any patterns or inconsistencies within the delivery and content of our curriculum and improve upon those processes where needed. I also had the opportunity to serve as a Team Leader for the second year of a three-year research trial, GOAL Trial, which analyzed the effectiveness of GRS curriculum. Over 4,500 tenth graders in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, South Africa participated in the Randomized Control Trial. The Trial was a joint collaboration between London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Wits Reproductive Health Institute the South African Institute of Education, and Grassroot Soccer.

Aside from my volunteer work with Grassroot Soccer, I was able to find a niche in Port Elizabeth and immerse myself in the culture. I attended a local church, played on a travel soccer team, and became friends with students from a local University. I also gained valuable insight to the subtle effects of apartheid, which still permeates in society. However, the way that GRS uses soccer to cut across racial lines allowed for numerous opportunities to bridge the gap to equality.

My experience in South Africa has altered my worldview and gave more purpose to my graduate studies at MUSC. Before I left, I held the notion that relating to people in “Africa” would be challenging. I believe today’s media helped heighten the idea that the opportunities, lifestyle, and medical knowledge of America (or any first world country for that matter) is in such high contrast to the poverty in “Africa”. However, I learned over the course of the year that this is a myth. People are people wherever you go. We all smile, dream, cry, fail and at our core want to be healthy, accepted and loved.

I was excited to learn that MUSC provides Global Health courses to all students and I am enrolled in the Introduction to Global Health course this fall, the first course of the Global Health Certificate. I want to continue to understand health from a Global perspective and hopefully use Occupational Therapy Internationally in the future.

Related Media:

Grassroot Soccer Homepage: www.grassrootsoccer.org

My blog while in South Africa: matthew.husband.blogspot.com

If you have any questions about my experience with Grassroot Soccer, do not hesitate to contact me at husband@musc.edu

Matthew is a first year occupational therapy student completing his work-study requirements in the MUSC Center for Global Health.