Brazilian legend Pelé once famously dubbed soccer the “beautiful game” for its sheer simplicity. All you need is a ball, some markers to delineate goals, and 11 players on each team. It’s that simplicity that may have turned the beautiful game into the world’s most popular game.

Given its popularity, it’s no surprise an organization called Grassroot Soccer is using the sport to impart vital health information to young men and women in developing countries. ExxonMobil is proud to support Grassroot Soccer programming in Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.

One of the greatest health challenges Grassroot Soccer tackles is a passion shared with ExxonMobil: the prevention and eradication of malaria. Stopping the disease is urgent: It annually kills about half a million people, 90 percent of whom are in Africa; many are young children. Fortunately, there are simple, affordable actions that can keep the disease at bay.

And what better way to learn about malaria prevention than on a soccer field? Grassroot Soccer manages one-of-a-kind programs with local organizations in each of the 50 countries where it operates. In Nigeria, for instance, Grassroot Soccer partners with YEDI (Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative), a local youth-outreach organization that adapts existing education models to support health and education.

By incorporating the popular sport into its educational approach, Grassroot Soccer has made learning about malaria a more positive—and therefore more impactful—experience. It has also created a safe space where, in addition to learning how to avoid catching the deadly disease, kids benefit from exercises in teamwork, interpersonal skills, confidence and leadership.

In Nigeria, 100,000 adolescents have participated in the program to date, resulting in a 22 percent improvement in knowledge of bed net maintenance and a 32 percent increase in the understanding of the importance of sticking to treatment.

View our photo gallery below to learn how soccer can help save lives.

A child dies of malaria every two minutes according to the World Health Organization. Awareness and health education intervention on knowledge, attitude and prevention practices among young people in at-risk communities have become an essential part of YEDI’s ExxonMobil-funded Grassroot Soccer program in Nigeria.


Grassroot Soccer conducts innovative public health campaigns by using the convening power of soccer to increase awareness and prevention of malaria, HIV and other infectious diseases among young people. Grassroot Soccer’s SKILLZ curriculum provides the skills and cultural support for sustainable behavior change.


(From left to right) Grassroot Soccer participants Sodiq Usman, Aloy Nkechi and Balikis Abubakir stand with a coach as they display YEDI-issued gifts of long-lasting insecticidal bed nets (LLINs), a simple but powerful tool to keep mosquitoes at bay. YEDI distributed more than 1,200 free bed nets in Nigeria in 2016 alone.


Malaria infection during pregnancy threatens the lives of mothers and their newborns. During YEDI’s Malaria Testing Tournaments in conjunction with World Malaria Day, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young people are given priority access to medical attention and free LLINs.


It’s crucial that school-age children sleep under LLINs, but this group can be difficult to reach. YEDI has developed age-relevant curricula, including Basic SKILLZ and Advanced SKILLZ, to teach young people how to protect themselves from malaria, including the importance of using bed nets.


Basirat Adeogun, an 11-year-old recent graduate of the Grassroot Soccer program in Oshodi, a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria, wants to become a nurse. When asked what her takeaway from the program was, she said, “Although there are several ways to prevent malaria, using a mosquito net is the best method.”


Yusuf Haleemat, a student in Lagos, Nigeria, learned through a skills intervention carried out by YEDI’s peer educators that she cannot contract malaria by drinking dirty water—and she also learned how she can become infected.


Franklin Goodness is a 15-year-old high school student and graduate of Grassroot Soccer. She aspires to become an architect, because she is saddened by the news of collapsed buildings in Lagos. When asked about the program, she brought up a crucial piece of information: “I learned to always do a test before treating malaria to ensure we are treating the right thing and avoid self-medication.” Last year, YEDI performed more than 750 and rapid diagnostic tests for malaria at its community events.


The success of Grassroot Soccer’s ExxonMobil-supported malaria projects has garnered the attention of the Peace Corps, which has added soccer-based malaria prevention activities into Stomping Out Malaria, a program that Peace Corps volunteers and local partners deliver in 22 African countries.

Above header image: In conjunction with World Malaria Day 2017, YEDI organized a “Kick Against Malaria” soccer tournament using the Grassroot Soccer sport-for-development program to raise awareness about Malaria in Mushin, a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria.


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