Capoeira for peace
Keisha Hill, Gleaner Writer
Capoeira Alafia (CA) is dedicated to the prevention and reduction of violence, and the promotion of environmental awareness and safe living spaces within inner-city communities in Jamaica. Capoeira is an internationally practised Afro-Brazilian rhythmic martial arts that incorporates elements of both self-defence and artistic expression. It is a unique form of martial arts that is founded upon camaraderie, cooperation and respect, as opposed to competition and aggression.
The Capoeira for Peace project in Jamaica utilises Capoeira to strategically improve behaviour in youth eight to 16 years old, and strengthen their community relations. The programme is strategically taught through a therapeutic approach rather than a martial arts approach associated with most combat systems and combat sports.
According to Dennis 'Contra-Mestre Simpson' Eckart, Grupo Cativeiro Capoeira Jamaica, founder/coordinator, the programme is very important as they cover many of the main issues that affect youths in Jamaica by offering an exciting blend of alternative skills training.
According to Simpson, while many martial arts instructors and organisations teach only martial combative techniques with little (if any) attention to philosophical, spiritual, or societal issues, Capoeira for Peace fundamentally focuses on the development of both physical and mental self-regulation and control, along with respect, discipline and creativity to improve the social and physical quality of life of its practitioners.
"Capoeira ... was developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil and was used in their struggle for freedom. It parallels Jamaica's colonial history, Maroon culture and even reggae music as a form of expression. It is a unique blend of martial arts, music, dance and acrobatic movements. Teaching Capoeira's cultural context and history to Jamaicans allows for the analysis of their own cultural roots and can help develop self-esteem, pride, and cultural identity," Eckart said.
Capoeira for Peace teaches martial arts as a practice of rethinking and manipulating one's own previously exhibited patterns of physical movement and emotional behaviour in order for youth to alter their own decision-making process. These skills improve their knowledge, confidence, and self-esteem to reject and avoid detrimental behaviour associated with living in dangerous and impoverished communities.
"We also train youths in tyre crafting and teach them how to transform used car and truck tyres into marketable products such as flower pots, bird plant hangers, children swings and retaining walls," Echart said.
By combining physical training and theoretical lessons, patterns of peaceful social interaction and alternatives to violent behaviour are developed within the context of the art, which is then transferred to the participant's social environment. After extensive participation in Capoeira for Peace,
the youth then participate in advanced Capoeira for Peace instructor training for the youth to engage with their own communities and teach Capoeira classes.
"The most outstanding capoeira students are rewarded with scholarships and have experienced many life-changing events due to their dedication to the programme. Some students have become instructors as well, and are passing on their skills to other within their communities," Eckart said.
"Others earn additional income by participating in demonstrations. Our environmental workshops have also been well received and many have picked up our techniques and have replicated them," he added.
At the start of every youth's participation in Capoeira for Peace, data is collected, which allows CA to track the progress of the youth over a period of time. The baseline data collection includes interviews and surveys of the youth in regard to their values, their relationship with their community, family, peers, and friends, their emotional and physical well-being, and their perceptions of themselves.
The same interviews and surveys are also given to the youth's parent or guardian in reference to the respective youth's relationships and state of being. Every year, a graduation ceremony is held in which the youth's physical abilities, personal values, and learned skills in Capoeira are tested. If they pass the test and demonstrate a significant amount of growth, they are awarded a new belt that represents their hard-earned experience as well as their new responsibilities and challenges to come.
"During this period of graduation, both the youth and their respective guardians are interviewed and surveyed again to monitor the youth's development. A key component in the assessment is for the youth to describe how they would behave in real-life situations in which violent behaviour could result. When youth become Capoeira for Peace instructors, the respective communities are interviewed and surveyed on a six-month basis to record the efficacy and impact of the classes held in the communities," he added.
The data collected through these key indicators are compiled and evaluated yearly for reports on the efficiency of Capoeira for Peace's theory of change. The reports in turn help the CA reevaluate its methodology for the youth to have an optimal learning experience. A framework for accountability and transparency is also generated and used to guide further implementation of the project.
Grupo Cativeiro Capoeira Jamaica is the local branch of an international Capoeira group (Grupo Cativeiro Capoeira) present in several countries across the globe and based in Brazil. The website is capoeirajamaica.org. GCCJ is the implementer of the 'Capoeira for Peace' programme, a project of CAPOEIRA ALAFIA(CA) - the locally registered non-profit organisation and is featured at their website.CA is featured at their other website capoeira-alafia.org.