Last Thursday, Grassroot Soccer (GRS), a charity that works to equip young people with critical knowledge about their health through sport, hosted their annual World AIDS Day Gala in London. A group of the charity’s supporters gathered to raise more than $1 million, which will help GRS continue their work that has already reached more than 2.3 million youth.
In advance of the Gala, Global Board Member and Gala Chair Fiona Ferguson chatted with us about GSR’s mission and the part last week’s event plays in it. “Where I come from, South Africa, genocide is five times the global average. Gender-based violence is just off the charts,” she said. “So promoting gender equality at a young age is part of what the programmes are about. Gender inequality is just as much about empowering girls as it is as re-enfranchising young men, giving them a sense of hope and belonging and purpose. Sport can do that.”
Along with bolstering gender equality, GRS is also focussed on teaching youth in southern Africa about their sexual health—particularly, educating those youth about HIV. They bring that education outside of a classroom and use football-inspired games to add an element of interactivity. “The program is really dynamic,” Fiona explained. “There are different programmes for different age groups, and programmes that are geared towards kids who are HIV positive to help them cope with the stigma. But education is everything, and traditionally in Africa, the girls were the ones who missed out on that education. But now, you can tell these girls they have a choice to be in charge of their own bodies.”
Along with marking World AIDS Day, the Gala is the biggest fundraiser GRS has for their essential programmes. This year, the theme was women’s empowerment, since women and girls are particularly at risk of contracting HIV. Two-time World Cup Champion and US National Team player Christen Press was one of the Gala’s honoured guests, and she spoke during the event to highlight the US Team’s message of gender parity.
Along with Christen, Stella McCartney also attended the Gala, as well as GRS Global Ambassador Rachel Riley and two-time World Cup Champion and US National Team player Tobin Heath. David Beckham joined the evening via a video message, too. Following all the moving messages of support, the evening continued with an auction and gift bags that included donations from Positive Luxury’s member brands Inlight Beauty, Danielle Fichera, Okapi, Song Saa, Benedetti Life and Wearing Memories.
Concluding the evening was an inspiring speech from the GRS Zimbabwe Curriculum Development and Training Officer and former Zimbabwe Women’s National Team player, Amellia Chifodya. “Soccer unites everyone,” she said, “Wherever there’s soccer, people from different races, different nationalities come together in harmony.”
This year’s GRS Gala was a huge success, and will help the organisation continue to create programmes in countries with the highest rates of HIV infections in the world. “Our goal is to work with one million kids each year,” said GRS Founder and CEO Dr. Tommy Clark. “We want to give them information, support, mentorship. We want to make sure they have the assets and knowledge they need and access to health services.”
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Written by - Tara MacInnis