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Student takes leap of faith on HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Matthew Husband | MUSC News Center | December 2, 2014

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Matthew Husband took advantage of his spare time by bungee jumping from the Bloukrans River Bridge, known as the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. 

An MUSC student provided this first-hand account about his time as an intern for a soccer program that teaches children about HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Molweni! My name is Matthew Husband and I am a first year occupational therapy student at the Medical University of South Carolina. Before arriving on campus, I had the opportunity to intern for a year with the non-profit organization Grassroot Soccer in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Grassroot Soccer uses the power of soccer to teach kids about HIV and AIDS. South Africa has the largest percentage of people 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. Grassroot Soccer works in 23 different countries, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the organization 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 intern in Port Elizabeth, a coastal city on the Indian Ocean that is home to the Xhosa people. 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.

Grassroot Soccer 
Matthew Husband (back row, center) and fellow staff members at Grassroot Soccer in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. 

Before moving forward, it is important to understand the background of Grassroot Soccer. The founder, Tommy Clark, M.D., conceived of the idea after playing soccer professionally in Zimbabwe, where he witnessed both the devastation of HIV and the popularity of soccer. Together with a group of friends who had similar experiences, he, Methembe Ndlovu, Ethan Zohn and Kirk Friedrich created Grassroot Soccer.

The organization 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, Grassroot Soccer 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.

My role was analyzing and restructuring our data collection process. Grassroot Soccer has graduated more than 500,000 kids since the inception of the organization in 2002. I looked for any patterns or inconsistencies within the delivery and content of our curriculum and improved those processes when needed. I also had the chance to serve as a team leader for the second year of a three-year research trial, GOAL Trial, which analyzed the effectiveness of Grassroot Soccer curriculum. More than 4,500 10th 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 into the subtle effects of apartheid, which still permeates society. However, the way that Grassroot Soccer 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 given more purpose to my graduate studies at MUSC. I learned over the course of the year that people are people wherever you go. We all smile, dream and cry. At our core, we want to be healthy, accepted and loved.

I was excited to learn that MUSC provides global health courses to all students. I enrolled in one called Introduction to Global Health this fall, the first course of the Global Health Certificate. I want to continue to understand health from a global perspective and possibly use occupational therapy internationally in the future.

MUSC’s Center for Global Health works to improve the health of people in South Carolina and globally through the development of collaborative global partnerships in education, clinical care and research. Globalization is one of four emphasis areas of the Medical University of South Carolina’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, which specifically highlights global expansion in research, education and clinical care.

This story was reprinted with permission from the MUSC Center for Global Health.



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