NAMUSHAKA, Zambia, 2 July 2010 More than 600 km from Zambia's capital, Lusaka, the local school's sandy football pitch is being converted to a soccer fan park. Football fever is hitting even the most remote villages in Africa as the FIFA World Cup is played for the first time on the continent.
An Open Air Cinema
inflatable movie screen comes to life as a generator powers the engine that blows air into it. A team of technicians working for a local Zambian non-governmental organization, Sports for Action, has been trained to set up the projector to beam the international football matches live.
The screening is made possible by the вЂWorld Cup in My Village' initiative organized by UNICEF, the Children's Radio Foundation and local partners. The initiative channels the power of football not only to beam this global sporting event to poor and far-flung communities, but also to tap into the talents of young people in order to raise awareness about key social issues.
Issues of concern
As the sun sets on this community of a couple of thousand people, local children gather, giddy with the thrill of seeing whether Ghana the only African team to qualify to round two of the FIFA World Cup 2010 can beat the United States.
Under a full moon, they huddle together to keep warm. As Ghana scores its victory, there is no doubt where their loyalty lies. Pan-African solidarity erupts into jubilation.
Inonge Sitali, 14, a ninth-grade student, is one of 17 Zambian young people here who have just undergone intensive training in radio techniques. They are using the matches to discuss issues of concern in their communities, holding talk shows before each game is screened.
We have been able to learn how to use the recorder, how to interview people and we also learned how to make a good story, says Inonge, who lives in the provincial capital, Mongu, and is now eager to become a journalist.
Using radio to foster dialogue
"It's a social mobilization tool that brings people together, and then it's easier to start talking about social issues, notes Children's Radio Foundation workshop coordinator George Githuma. As a Kenyan, he understands the power of football in Africa and has been working with the children to produce their radio pieces.
We work with the youth journalists, adds Mr. Githuma, to find out what are some of the social issues in the community what they think about poverty, what do they think about education, what do they think about HIV and AIDS?
He is convinced that empowering young people with skills to tell stories and discuss their problems can have a big influence on a community, especially in a culture where children don't usually have a chance to speak out. Talking about a problem is the first step in solving it and creating dialogue, says Mr. Githuma. Young people trained with radio skills can create the vehicles for finding these solutions.
Focus on education
The youth journalists interview people before the matches and produce short radio stories that are broadcast on local community stations. One of the biggest concerns they have been hearing about is education.
Although Zambia introduced free basic education in 2002, for many rural families the distance to school as well as costs of uniforms and books can make attendance difficult. Drop-out rates are high. In response, World Cup in My Village has allied with 1GOAL, a football-centred education campaign, in an effort to get every child into primary school.
Esther Kalenga, 17, one of the young journalists trained by the Children's Radio Foundation, is now her final year of secondary school. She says she has been shocked at the extent of teenage pregnancy in many rural communities.
These girls feel they have no way to go back to school, she says during a panel discussion with other young people on a popular Sunday talk show. The money they need for staying in the classroom is instead now needed to care for the babies. I think education is very important, because education is the only way to succeed in life.
Opportunity of a lifetime
As another football match approaches, the inflatable screen is set up on a hill overlooking the Bartose floodplains, 25 km from the Zambezi River, which flows across southern Africa. More crowds of people face the winter chill to sit on the grass and marvel at the technology being set up before them.
The youth journalists call more people to come over, using the amplification system to start a discussion about the role of teachers in education. Eager to engage, children wait their turn to express opinions about how to improve the quality of their classrooms.
Then the match begins. Despite their isolation, and the fact that electricity and televisions sets are rare in western Zambia, even the youngest children here know the names of Africa's best players and aspire to be like them. World Cup in My Village has given them a chance to see their heroes play. For many, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.