Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | 250 Ugandan youths have completed a program designed to empower youth through the sport of tennis while also providing HIV/AIDS education.
Dubbed the Arthur Ashe Tennis Program, the initiative was implemented by the U.S. Mission in partnership with the Tartan Burners Athletic Club, the Uganda Tennis Association (UTA), and the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV&AIDS (UNYPA).
The Program provides HIV/AIDS education and awareness, in honour of fallen African American tennis player, Arthur Ashe, the first and only African American male to win the U.S Open and Wimbledon singles titles. Ashe was the world number 1 tennis player in 1968.
Ashe learned in 1988 that he had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion and became an HIV/AIDS activist. He started the Ashe Arthur Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. In 1993, Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia.
The US Embassy holds the youth tennis program annually to honour his legacy of “fighting for racial equality and HIV awareness. The program sponsored tennis clinics and HIV/AIDS education in Hoima, Gulu, Arua, Jinja and Fort Portal, where Tennis instructors teach tennis skills to the youth aged 13-18, and Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV&AIDS holds sessions on HIV/AIDS education.
This climaxed with a Grand Finale at the Lugogo Tennis Court in Kampala, where the US mission organized a youth tournament final and exhibition doubles match between Uganda and USA players on Saturday afternoon.
Christopher Krafft, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala explains that the Mission launched the Arthur Ashe Tennis Program to coincide with the US celebration of Black History Month, a period to commemorate the contribution of various African Americans in various disciplines.
Krafft says that HIV is still a significant health problem and that everyone must take personal responsibility to reduce the spread of the disease. It is estimated that 1.4 million Ugandans are living with HIV.
Some of the youths who attended the grand finale of the program told Uganda Radio Network-URN that the program was empowering and that they are prepared to lead campaigns for an AIDS-free generation.
Jovas Natukunda and Karen Namatovu lauded the US Mission for sponsoring the program while Reagan Odongkara, who is a student of Gulu High School says that he will encourage his peers to abstain or use condoms in order to avoid HIV infections.
During the event, Moses Nsubuga alias Supercharger shared his journey, loving with HIV and leading a positive, inspirational life since 1994.
Meanwhile, one Shakira, a young girl born with HIV asked youths to take charge of their lives by living responsibly. She says that much as they encourage infected persons to take their medication among other tips, it is best not to contract the virus.
Phil Dimon, the Spokesperson of the US Mission says that he hopes that the program will be held annually and also spread beyond five districts in the near future. He however says that the continuity of the program will depend on the availability of funds.
The US Mission allocated 92 million Shillings for the inaugural Arthur Ashe Tennis program which catered for the tennis clinics and activities for the grand finale.