Consider this: fewer than 30 percent of youth in developing countries have basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Now take a minute to digest what you just read. Yes, it is a staggering number. This is especially true when you consider that nearly half of the world's population – more than 3 billion people – lives in a developing nation.
That's where Grassroot Soccer comes in.
Reaching a youth audience of more than 2.1 million people, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize at-risk youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives and be agents for change in their communities. Spread across 45 countries, reaching over 100,000 youth per year, GRS currently has a multitude of opportunities for internships and mentoring programs.
Created by former Dartmouth College men's soccer player Tommy Clark, the global GRS movement has its roots in the small rural community of Norwich, Vt. One of many people to watch its influence explode over the past several years, Castleton University men's soccer head coach John O'Connor has been there since the beginning.
Starting as an assistant for the Dartmouth men's soccer program, O'Connor coached Clark before helping mentor the eventual co-founder of GRS, Methembe Ndlovu.
Following his graduation, Clark decided to join a professional league in Zimbabwe, where he met Ndlovu. After a year of playing abroad, he returned to the United States to enroll in the Dartmouth medical program. It was during this time that Clark convinced Ndlovu to join the Big Green's men's soccer program.
"When [Clark] returned [to Zimbabwe] after he graduated medical school, he had found that four or five of his ex-teammates had passed away from HIV or AIDS," O'Connor stated. "So [Clark and Ndlovu] kind of came together with this idea to create this nonprofit to educate the kids and Zimbabwe about HIV and AIDS and since then it has grown."
Grassroot Soccer always had the potential to be a global movement and its supporting cast helped it get to where it is now. "Even initially, when they first started the organization, Ethan Zohn - an ex-college soccer player who appeared as one of the first participants on Survivor - came on-board," O'Connor mentioned. "At that point, he had become a celebrity. But even now, if you look at the Board of Directors for Grassroot Soccer, it is a 'who's who' in many ways."
David Beckham, Bill and Melinda Gates, Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor headline the list of well-known names that have thrown their support behind the movement. GRS boasts the support of more than 35 featured partners, including the likes of the USAID, the Peace Corps, Football for Hope, Positive Tracks and the Special Olympics.