Photo of Fortune
Fortune, an orphan herself, now helps other children learn about HIV and provides the emotional support they need to deal with growing up as part of a dedicated team who help run the Grassroots soccer program. Photo Credit: Heather Quinn

When Fortune's mother died, Fortune was too young—at age six—to understand the loss. When she lost her father to HIV six years later and had to live with her uncle, she felt the loneliness that goes along with not having parents. She received scholarships to allow her to complete her secondary education when her uncle wasn't able to pay for her fees. Once she graduated, Fortune discovered Grassroots Soccer.

Grassroots Soccer is an innovative organization that uses the power of soccer to achieve its objective of providing rigorous health education, focusing on HIV and AIDS. The program started in Zimbabwe in 2003 and reaches youth between the ages of 11 and 18. In addition to HIV education, the program provides psychosocial support and the opportunity for kids to form trusting relationships with responsible adults who are role models. The role model component is especially important because many of the children in the program don't have positive role models at home. The program consists uses soccer and games to engage students in understanding important information about HIV and health issues.

When Fortune heard about Grassroots, she was too old to be a participant, but wanted to be a part of the organization and offered to be a volunteer facilitator. After standing out as a committed and passionate volunteer, she went on to intern at the head office. She says that she wanted to be involved because she, "Felt that as an orphan, [she] could help other children like [herself], just by sharing what [she has] been through."

While her father was sick, no one discussed HIV with Fortune or helped her in the grieving process after his death. Years later, she silently suffered with the shame of losing a parent to HIV when she discovered her father's death certificate. She now says, "If I had participated in the Grassroots Soccer program when I was younger, I think I would have dealt with my father's situation in a different way. If I knew then what I know now about HIV I might have understood what was going on."

Having lost both her parents, Fortune understands the stigma and shame that goes along with being an orphan but says that, "In the classroom and on the street, there is judgment, but on the field there is no judgment. It's about being a team." The Grassroots Soccer program gives children like Fortune the chance to grow up to be healthy, well adjusted, and supported teenagers and adults who can go on to help others in need, as Fortune has.