MANYAMA, Zambia — The soccer field was jam-packed. The crowd, at least 1,000 strong, laughed, smiled, and in some cases, danced, on a warm June day in North-Western Zambia. A recording by a popular Zambian singer named Mampi blared in the background. “Why, why, why, oh why,” her voice rang out in a song that blended English and Bemba, one of several local languages spoken in Zambia.
Then the teams, five-year-old girls from two community schools near Barrick’s Lumwana mine, took the field. Before play began the players stood in the center of the field each holding up a paper that contained a sobering message: “Mum, Dad, my guardian,” the message began. “I don’t want to lose you to a condition that can be prevented or delayed… Go for HIV, Malaria & Diabetes testing… to free your mind… And mine!”
It was VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) week in Zambia. The annual event raises awareness about HIV/AIDS and other diseases that plague Zambia, and encourages Zambians to get tested. More than one in seven Zambian adults lives with HIV, according to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity. Malaria affects more than four million Zambians annually, and results in almost 8,000 deaths each year, according to UNICEF.
1,475 people were either tested for HIV or received counselling. Another 431 people were tested for malaria.
Even as the soccer game began, men, women and children trickled into two white tents adjacent to the field for testing. The event, which took place in Manyama, a rapidly growing village located just eight kilometers from the Lumwana mine, marked the culmination of VCT week. Testing and counselling services had been provided throughout the week in Lumwana’s host communities. All told, 1,475 people were either tested for HIV or received counselling. Another 431 people were tested for malaria. Barrick provided the funding for the tests, and supported the all-day event in Manyama, which included a community march, entertainment by a brass band and children’s soccer games.
“It’s very colorful and happy to witness the VCT events,” said Peter Chilambwe, Assistant Secretary of Zambia’s North-Western province and guest of honor at the event. “Lumwana has been helping the community since its inception supporting initiatives that are teaching the community how to sustain itself when mining is done. It’s very important that Lumwana is giving back to the community.”
The soccer matches began in the afternoon and the five-year-old girls’ game was a standout. The intensity of the play and enthusiasm of the crowd was on par with anything seen at the World Cup. One girl, a sweeper, quickly became a crowd favorite. Whenever the ball came near her net she magically materialized to defuse the crisis. “Defender!” shouted Mulimba Kwaleyela, Vice-Chairman of the Lumwana Community AIDS Task Force. “That one is a defender.”
Then the defender’s team scored and the crowd went wild. One spectator scooped the goal scorer up in her arms and did a victory lap, some children did cartwheels, while others ululated and sang.
When the game ended a short time later, Chilambwe congratulated the players one by one and posed for a photo with each team. The scoreboard said the defender’s team won, but, cliché though it may be, on this day, there truly were no losers.