“The ball goes to hygiene,” yells the announcer in Chichewa. “Hygiene is critical to stop the spread of disease, but look here proteins are right on her tail.” A crowd gathers as women dressed in traditional Chitenge skirts scramble to get an angle on the earth colored ball that is at the center of their soccer match. Each of the 12 players has been given a name ranging from the basic food groups, to conservation agriculture, that spectators now chant as the ball whizzes from foot to foot and goalies dive towards to keep the points scored close to zero.
It’s mid-day in Tholo, Malawi, the group has just closed a meeting on communal savings. I’ve attended countless similar meetings that usually break with a song and a prayer, but this group is different. This group wants to reinforce to others in the community what they’ve been taught through sports.
Like any professional match they begin by announcing the line-up, the players run on to the grassy field waving their arms and taunting the competition. Soon after the game begins. The crowd is riveted. As am I. It’s the first time I’ve ever witnessed such a creative way of spreading the lessons CRS has taught.
A woman in a red and white striped tanks runs by, “handwashing has the ball,” shouts the baritone announcer, “handwashing wants you to know to always use soap, and there she is coming in on……. GOOOOOOAAALLL!” The crowd erupts, the players whoop and do brief victory dances.
The final score is 2-1. The teams will face off again the following week. Their goal is to have fun while continue to spread critical messages that will improve the lives of their community. Well, that, and saving up enough money in their savings group to buy some official jerseys for each player.
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