Child soldiers from Congo find peace and friends in Capoeira

Capoeira for Peace (Capoeira por la Paix) has just made its first “baptism” and graduation at the Democratic Republic of Congo. The program uses capoeira to resocialize children who had been used as soldiers by armed groups in the African country. The initiative of the Brazilian Embassy and Unicef, with the support of the Amada Mondiale Foundation and the Government of Canada, was inspired by the Gingando pela Paz program created by Viva Rio and implemented in Haiti since 2008. In Congo, the program has received more than four thousand children since 2014.

Capoeira professor Flavio Saudade, creator of Gingando pela Paz, also participated in the project in Congo. The Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro began his career in one of Viva Rio’s social projects, went to Haiti to coordinate and today works in the country of Central Africa, helping to implement the technical-pedagogical base of the program for children and young people, most of them fleeing ultra-violent gangs.

“Capoeira contributes directly to the recovery of affective bonds, which are usually compromised after the child’s association to an armed group. We often see boys who had been members of rival groups meeting, and capoeira offers a space of integration where they can develop their ability to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. The children say that in capoeira they learn to forgive and to make friends”, says Flavio Saudade.

The “baptism” marks the birth of the practitioner for the world of capoeira. It is especially important in the Congo program because it is also a resumption for children with life histories marked by violence. “At the moment of baptism the past will remain as learning and the future will be the way to go. It is one of the steps to put an end to the stigma that the child has carried so far. They take on a new vision of themselves and, therefore, the community as well. They are given a new name and begin training to become leaders and advocates of peace”, says Saudade.

The program in the city of Gama is based in two Transit and Guidance Centers, places that host the children fleeing the armed gangs. There they receive psychological support and participate in activities besides capoeira, such as handicraft, music and language classes. Capoeira for Peace also works in a hospital for vulnerable children and adolescents, such as HIV patients, orphans, victims of sexual violence, people with special needs, and other children in the community.

“Capoeira has been effective in reducing trauma. Among girls, we found a considerable increase in self-esteem. They say they have found in capoeira a way to enjoy themselves again. One teenager reported that she was thinking of committing suicide, but that with capoeira she was able to rediscover the will to live. She wants to study and become a capoeira teacher”, says Saudade, who believes that capoeira is increasingly recognized worldwide as an innovative and efficient solution to take care of children who are victims of armed conflict or in humanitarian emergency zones.

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