BTN LiveBIG: Hoosiers help youth in Ghana secure a better tomorrow with education today

BTN LiveBIG: Hoosiers help youth in Ghana secure a better tomorrow with education today

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During football and basketball games, BTN LiveBIG will spotlight notable examples of research, innovation and community service from around the conference. In-Game stories will provide more background on these features, and the opportunity to view the videos again.

Scoring that decisive goal, assisting in a play-making volley, or driving the ball down the court can teach valuable life lessons in leadership, teamwork and perseverance. But what if the universal language of sports can be tapped to teach other valuable lessons, ones that might not usually be found on the field of play?

Researchers at Indiana University’s School of Public Health are doing just that with the innovative YES-Ghana program.

“We’re using recreational sport to do other things besides just have kids play,” explain Sarah Young, associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies. “Things like learning tolerance, public health messages and youth development.”

After securing grant money from the U.S. Department of State, Young and her colleagues, along with IU’s Director of African Studies, Dr. Samuel Obeng, chose Cape Coast, Ghana, for the trial run of the program.

The youth of Ghana are particularly hard-hit by issues surrounding teen alcoholism, pregnancy, HIV, and other sexual-health issues. According to Young, the common ground of sport allows them to increase the reach of each message.

“Everybody wants to play,” she said. “But then we also take a timeout. We call them timeout for healthy living sessions where they talk about different health issues.”

Lessons on leading a healthy life are also integrated into the games themselves.

“One of our teachers was extremely creative in doing so,” Young said. “She integrated a soccer drill where the kids would have to dribble around cones and at each cone were the ABCs of safe sex.”

YES-Ghana has grown to nine schools in the Cape Coast area and recently 16 Ghanaians, the majority of them teachers, were able to travel to Bloomington for two weeks of intensive training. Centered on learning various sports skills, touring athletic facility tours, and educational sessions, the training is at the heart of the program.

“The future of the program is for it to be sustainable, but without our support,” Young explained. “So we hope that we’ve trained our folks to be able to train other people.”

Bill Ramos, assistant professor at IU School of Public Health, added that success is measured in more than just how well the program is performing at the moment.

“Knowing the impact that these programs could have long-term is important to us,” he said. “We’d like to see it expand into other villages as well.”

To that end, the IU team recently applied for additional grants to grow YES-Ghana even more.

“We’re hoping we have that opportunity,” Ramos said, “because as most people know, there are always lessons learned.”

By John Tolley

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