The organisation trains children in the Afro-Brazilian sport and art form of capoeira. Named after a high grass which grows in Brazil, capoeira is a martial art which combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. Played in a circle, there are no winners and losers, and with its combination of kicks and acrobatics, the sport is all about releasing energy and expressing playfulness in a collaborative group. Since it requires nothing but a few metres of flat space, even children in the most severely deprived areas can learn capoeira and it has already proved popular in camps and youth centres in Syria.
Now, Bidna Capoeira have brought the sport to the West Bank. With support from the United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA), the organisation launched a pilot project to teach capoeira to 480 children in West Bank schools and camps. After only a few sessions, the organisers could see the positive impact of the sport on the children, particularly in reducing aggressive behaviour. Providing a safe and energetic outlet through play is vital to the healthy development of children, particularly for youngsters who live in unsafe environments.
Expanding the programme into the camps of Shu’fat (East Jerusalem) and Jalazone (Ramallah), the project manager for the organisation, Isaac Heinrich, spoke to IRIN about bringing capoeira to the children of the West Bank and how it helps them deal with trauma. Surrounded by a high level of violence, children in the region have few recreational opportunities. Capoeira not only provides an outlet for play and energy, the sport’s philosophy of collaboration, discipline, awareness of the self and respect for others can also “strengthen young people and develop their leadership skills”. Many of the children joining the capoeira groups “have experienced different traumas....and often [have] a lot of aggression inside them.” But in learning capoeira, Isaac Heinrich says children “connect with its peaceful message”.
Thanks to the success of the pilot schemes, UNRWA this month signed an agreement with Bidna Capoeira to continue training in the UNRWA schools of the Shu’fat and Jalazone refugee camps. According to one counsellor involved in the project, over 70 per cent of students showed noticeable improvements in learning and behaviour in class following their involvement with the groups. The Middle East peace process is once again at an impasse following new Israeli plans to build additional homes in the West Bank and continued argument over the 1967 pre-conflict borders. With the help of capoeira, the children of the West Bank could teach the politicians something about peace and cooperation.