- Felizarda Vilanculos, Futebol dá força player from Massinga, Inhambane Province, Mozambique.
An ever present challenge during 2020 has been our lack of means of outreach due to COVID-19 restrictions. We quickly moved to alternative outreach channels and developed new methods and approaches to ensure support for our football girls and maintain the safe spaces that football teams provide, despite the spread of the pandemic, by moving to digital channels and mobile phone-based communication. WhatsApp proved to be an effective communication platform to not only reach coaches, but girls directly.
For example, in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world, 62% of our football girls have access to a personal WhatsApp channel. Through WhatsApp groups for football teams, as well as SMS threads and meetings with physical distance between girls and coaches, our football coaches have been able to continue offering support and conversations around physical and mental health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, during the pandemic despite the absence of football training sessions.
In late 2020 and early 2021, we developed this further in Mozambique by engaging and training 600 girls as 'peer educators' in their football teams; 432 team captains and 168 other girls signed up and were engaged with training and support to have conversations about
sexual and reproductive health and rights in particular in WhatsApp and SMS groups, and in person when schools reopened. WhatsApp and SMS groups have allowed us to target interventions with information and discussions on specific topics according to the girls' own preferences, which has also enabled the girls to influence the content of future workshops at training sessions and matches when they can be resumed. By being able to vary text messages,
images and graphics, audio messages and both asynchronous communication that takes place when girls have access to WhatsApp and through scheduled live chats on specific topics with facilitators ready to answer questions or organise workshops, we have increased our reach
and been able to reach more girls more regularly than before, while keeping costs down and respecting restrictions.
However, as the majority of our girls come from poor households, this did not provide a fully inclusive solution. We opted for in-person outreach providing sanitary equipment to coaches to ensure safe delivery of printed materials to girls lacking access to a secure personal telephone.
As many girls in the same team live close to one another, messages were also passed on to those without access to a phone. Girls also shared their phones with each other allowing for girls without one to engage through text and audio messages asynchronously. This shows how football teams can serve as platforms of communication offering a dynamic network of frequent interpersonal relationships with an organic information flow - probably the most powerful aspect of our COVID-19 Response Campaign, and a vital aspect to develop further even as football activities can be resumed.
When we create safe spaces for girls where they can ask questions without judgement, without feeling insecure, but instead where there is openness and support, girls will ask important questions - and girls having answers can be the difference that enables girls to shape their own future.
Between training sessions, conversations continue in WhatsApp groups and on text messages, which has been particularly important and crucial during COVID-19 when football training sessions could not be held regularly. The main lesson from this period without football has been how football teams can still act as a communication platform as they create dynamic networks of interpersonal communication that take place on a daily or weekly basis, and that information within the networks of committed coaches and girls is disseminated organically within the networks as well as to people outside them, such as the girls' family members. As schools opened and girls met more often in person, it became apparent that many girls who did not have access to phones had still been kept informed and supported through our alternative modes of communication throughout the period of restrictions.
As the Mutola Cup is implemented post-COVID, we are integrating digital aspects, such as live chats on WhatsApp with different types of expertise on specific issues, when the football teams are physically assembled, in order to harness the digital benefits, while ensuring an inclusive activity that also reaches the most vulnerable. Post-COVID, continued information and support will also be offered through alternative communication channels such as WhatsApp and texting in addition to the football trainings and games.In Mozambique we developed our outreach strategies further to include 600 girls as peer educators within their teams. 432 team captains and 168 girls that volunteered to follow in their coaches’ footsteps, and were engaged and supported to serve as peer educators and role models in their teams. The peer educators have then facilitated girls-only talks around sexual and reproductive health and rights in WhatsApp and SMS groups, and in-person once schools resumed.