DR Congo

In Goma, Capoeira Brings Peace to Children

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By RAFAEL CABANILLAS

In my capacity as a Mexican capoeira practitioner, I arrived in North Kivu in September to lead the project “Capoeira for Peace”. Together with Dieudonné, a capoeira practitioner from Kinshasa, I lead the training in capoeira for children released from armed forces or groups. Here is how this martial art is helping with their reintegration.

I started doing capoeira in northern Mexico six years ago. Like many capoeira practitioners of my generation who aren’t in Brazil, I discovered capoeira through the film “Only the Strong” and the video game Tekken. Initially, I didn’t realise that capoeira could be of such cultural and social importance, thinking that it was just another martial art amongst so many others.

During my training in capoeira as part of a group, my instructor, (Maître Manchinha from Cordão de Ouro) asked us to help him create a capoeira social project. The idea was to teach capoeira in hostels, to children with a history of family violence, and in the deprived areas of my town. It was there that I saw capoeira as a social tool, a method for teaching others, through play and the martial arts, respect, appreciation of others, equality, discipline and the result of effort.

When we started the “Capoeira for Peace” project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September, we didn’t know how the children would react, as capoeira is, in principle, an activity that demands physical proficiency, training and perseverance, and it was an activity totally unknown to the children. To make things easier, we tried hard to present it as a game, as a way of expressing themselves and the children loved it! The fact that capoeira is a mixture of music, acrobatics and physical movements, has allowed the children from different centres to familiarise themselves with capoeira pole pole, (“little by little” in Swahili, the language spoken in the east of the country).

What I have learnt since my arrival in Goma, where the project is taking place, is that we forget too often that children have a need for fun, leisure and sporting activities.

These games and pastimes, used wisely, have the ability to develop intelligence and act as very powerful psychosocial tools.

Throughout this month, we have seen not only improvements in the children’s psychomotor skills but also in their behaviour in class and in the centre. We are able to build peace, tolerance, listening and respect of others. The coaches who train with the children have noticed a difference in their relationship with the children and in the relationship between the children themselves.

Progress has been made but one difficulty persists. In the transit centres our commitment to the children is only temporary (one and a half months to three months, until the child is reunited with his or her family). So we have little time and yet our objectives are very ambitious.

For this reason, one of our objectives is gradually to open different centres in neighbouring communities. Our wish is that the community participate in the project, on the one hand in order to begin the children’s social reintegration and on the other hand in order to try and reduce the stigmatisation that the centre is subjected to. The idea is that children, who are stigmatised due to having been assimilated into armed groups, are brought into contact with the population outside of the centre. This visibility in the community is already being implemented. We have opened up classes to the external community in a day centre. Fifty people of all ages and gender have come along to enrol in order to share this time with the children from the centre.

We know that our intervention is producing results gradually; we are conscious of the challenges, but we remain optimistic. To date, the project has already reached 250 people and lessons are available in a transit centre, a day centre and a school. Our work does not stop at coaching children at the centre. Our mission is also to train the coaches and to sensitise partners and the community local to the centres. We must keep in mind that a big part of our success comes from the work carried out by our partners in reintegrating the children: Working together allows the building of a sustainable future for everyone.

Translated From French by Daphne Wood.

Rafael Cabanillas is the coordinator in charge of the Capoeira4Peace pilot project in Goma. Sharing with kids through this project in a respectful and friendly state of mind is one of the best experience he had the chance to live. His vision of peace : "Peace is not a onetime act but a full commitment to work towards it every day of our lives in every aspect of them".