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Originally published Monday, September 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Soccer kick-starts HIV/AIDS education

A soccer tournament seems an unlikely way to break down cultural taboos and overcome hostilities. But for the coordinators of the second...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A soccer tournament seems an unlikely way to break down cultural taboos and overcome hostilities.

But for the coordinators of the second "Kick HIV/AIDS Away" tournament in Tukwila, kicking a ball into a net was hardly the main goal. The event, hosted by Public Health — Seattle & King County, is designed to draw members of the Seattle area's African and Caribbean immigrant communities to learn about HIV/AIDS awareness and have an opportunity to be tested for the disease.

For those in the African communities, "HIV/AIDS is taboo because it's wrapped with sex and drug use," said Martin Ndegwa. Ndegwa immigrated to the United States in 2001 from Kenya and works in health education with Covenant Missions International, an African faith-based organization.

The number of new HIV cases reported in King County among foreign-born blacks has risen from 9 to 98 in the past 22 years, said Michael Hanrahan, manager of HIV education and prevention services for the health department. He said the majority of foreign-born blacks originate from Africa and that 14,500 of them live in King County.

"There's a doubling of [new] cases every two years, and that's a real concern," Hanrahan said. "For every person we've identified a case of, there may be at least one other person [infected]."

Ndegwa said he also was concerned by the increase in new cases among those in his community and knew there needed to be more outreach for testing and prevention.

Tournament and testing information


The championship games for the "Kick HIV/AIDS Away" soccer tournament will be from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at Starfire soccer fields at the intersection of Interurban Avenue and Fort Dent Way in Tukwila. A closing ceremony and party with African food and live music will follow the final game. The tournament is free and open to the public, with on-site HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.

For additional information on how to get tested and local HIV/AIDS services:

HIV/AIDS testing: Call the King County HIV/STD Hotline at 206-205-7837,or contact the People of Color Against AIDS Network at www.pocaan.org or 888-278-3311.

Medical care: AIDS/HIV Care Access Project helps those who are infected find medical care and coverage. Information: 206-284-9277.

"A lot of Africans happen not to be aware of what is happening," he said of the rise in infection rates. Because soccer is one of the most popular sports in Africa, Ndegwa said he came up with the idea of having a tournament to draw in members of the community. He approached Public Health about hosting the event, and the People of Color Against Aids Network (POCAAN) to provide free on-site HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.

"We are able to reach communities that are very hard to [reach]," Ndegwa said.

During last year's tournament, nearly 40 people were tested for HIV and AIDS. Ndegwa said he is hoping to increase that number this year. To help that happen, Ndegwa walks among the spectators and players during the tournament, encouraging them to get tested.

There are 16 teams in this year's tournament, representing 14 African countries and the Caribbean, with one British team called Friends of Africa. In the first weekend of the tournament, more than 25 people were tested.

In addition, four of the teams have pledged that their entire rosters, about 80 people, will be tested next weekend. Kenneth Oganga of SeaTac, who plays for the Kenyan team, said he learned more about HIV/AIDS prevention by participating in the tournament.

"They are making it easier for people to talk about it and be aware of it," he said.

However, the outreach goes beyond HIV/AIDS, Oganga said. "We have a chance to have people uniting together and experiencing different cultures."

Ismaila Tunkara, of Mountlake Terrace, and Sainey Fatty, of Everett, who play for the Gambia team, said the tournament allows many members of African communities to leave behind the turbulent politics of their home countries and make friends of former enemies.

"There is no fighting, no arguments," said Tunkara. "We just play and obey the rules."

Vanessa Renée Casavant: vcasavant@seattletimes.com

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