The Skillz Street curriculum integrates several unique elements. One session is devoted to bringing the female participants to a local community organization. We took our participants to one of two: Sizanani and the Clinic. Sizanani, located just across the street from the Nike Training Center, provides support to orphans and vulnerable children. The Clinic is a larger center, offering HIV testing and support services. The girls had a chance to learn about the daily operations of the organizations, including how they could access services and volunteer.
A great deal of preparation went into a second aspect of the Skillz Street curriculum, namely an "HCT"-- an HIV Counseling and Testing day. We brought in testing partners to attend the event, a complicated task that fortunately worked out well. Right to Care and the Pimville Call Group agreed to come. Meanwhile, we brainstormed with coaches about other activities that could take place while the testing was going on. The morning of the event, Phindi, Annie, and I bought 200 “viennas” (hot dogs), rolls, and juice to feed the girls lunch. Grassroot Soccer coaches working in the township of Alexandra (northeast of us, in Joburg) took part in the day’s activities too.
A significant part of our planning revolved around a difficult issue: what to do if a girl were to test positive. We spoke at length with our testing partners to figure out this issue and decided that as soon as girls tested, they should all go home immediately. This way, there would be no uncertainty about girls that did not return to the activities, due to testing positive.
The Emshukantambo girls arrived first. While they ate lunch, Right to Care delivered a group counseling session. We then split them into stations. Some girls began testing in one of 4 small, private rooms (we used the changing rooms as our testing rooms). The nurses would begin by bringing 4-5 girls into the room for “pricking,” when a drop of blood is taken and placed in the test. The girls would then leave the room to wait for their results, which took about 10 minutes to appear. The nurse would call in the girls one by one to receive their results. One line on the test indicates an HIV-negative result; two lines HIV-positive. At the end of the day, I got tested with several of the girls, so I had the chance to see the process first-hand. While certain girls tested, others participated in activities outside, including Skillz 1.1 sessions. Several of our coaches had designed an AIDS jeopardy session, giving girls a chance to show what they know about the epidemic. After all the Emshukantambo girls tested, the TJ girls arrived and we repeated the process.
We ended up feeling very good about the day. In total, we had about 130 girls participating in the day’s activities, 92 of which were tested for HIV. Of the whole group, one girl tested positive, right at the end of the day. The testing partner conducting the test set up a plan for connecting the girl with services and our GRS coaches walked her home. We will be following up with the testing partners to check on this participant. It’s not easy to be present when a positive test occurs for the first time.
The Skillz Street graduation took place on Thursday, September 29th! It was another hectic but exciting day. We had been planning for the graduation to take place on Friday, but due to other scheduling issues we needed to move the date at the last minute. We were fortunately able to get approval from the schools.
During the morning, we bought lots of food and dropped it at one of our coaches’ house. Angela and Kefilwe (2 of our female coaches) had offered to cook for 140 people. At about 12:30pm, all the girls from both schools arrived at the center. It was very hot, so we moved everyone to a room for their performances. We hadn’t realized that a Nike event was taking place that day at the Center, so we needed to keep the girls relatively quiet (not easy with high schoolers). Some danced, some sang, others acted for their performances. In the afternoon, the food was ready. Unfortunately, we ran out of pap (a grain-like food used, sort of like rice), so we needed to buy 80 more rolls. The girls ended up staying at the Center until about 5:30pm, so it was quite a full day!
One of the big highlights of the graduation was a slide show we had prepared with photos from the month. Bongani, one of our male coaches, offered to help me add cool effects. We showed the slideshow in one of the main rooms of the Nike Center (the Nike event was over by this time). Those of us preparing the final dishes of food outside could tell the slideshow was a hit. The girls would scream with excitement after every photo, getting up and dancing to the theme song, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” After such a crazy chain of events taking place throughout the day, it was pretty awesome to see the girls so happy.
Some of the girls cried when they said goodbye to their coaches at the end of the day. As I've mentioned before, nothing seems to go as expected/planned, but we all felt really great about the Skillz Street program in the end. It was only our second time running Skillz Street, since it is such a new program. We graduated 121 girls during this September session, compared with about 55 from the first session (run in May, before my arrival). We're looking forward to planning the next session!
Closing circle at Emshukantambo
Visit to Sizanani with TJ participants
Right to Care Group Counseling Session before the HCT