Social Capoeira projects in Europe.

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Meet Bashar, Syrian Changemaker in Berlin

“I used to work with refugees, now I am one.”

“I have been in Berlin for nearly two and a half years now”, Bashar tells me. We meet on a hot June day outside a café in Neukölln. He is an energetic, engaging character, yet he is marked with a shy modesty. This is reflected in his admitted reluctance to carry out the interview, as our conversation begins he tells me with a nervous grin that “it is not that easy, when someone asks you questions about your life.”

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Bashar is a 29-year-old Syrian refugee who has been living in Berlin for nearly two and a half years. Despite having initially having fled the war in his country in 2012, it took him several attempts and several years to finally make it here safely to Germany. 

“When things started to get really dangerous in Syria , I had no choice, I had to escape” 

Bashar grew up in Damascus, one of the largest cities in Syria. It is clear from the offset that sports have played a huge role in his life. “I like sports” he tells me with a smile, “however, I started off with too many”. After getting bored with different kinds of sports, he remembers he was drawn to capoeira after seeing it on the PlayStation and in a movie. However, there was no capoeira in Syria – only a few YouTube videos. Bashar and some friends decided to make some their own moves. 

“Suddenly I met Tarek (founder of Capoeira4Refugees) in 2006-2007 maybe. He was somewhere in Damascus giving flyers out for this event – I was like, is this real capoeira?”

It was real capoeira. After meeting Tarek and a few of the others, Bashar became an avid player of capoeira: “For me it was always music and capoeira”. 

Tarek registered a local organisation in Syria CapoeirArab and was giving free classes to refugees. The classes with Iraqi children soon grew to include displaced Palestinian children. 

Bashar quickly became a senior trainer, he independently trained Iraqi and Palestinian Refugees, children’s’ classes, in women’s’ safe houses and in prisons. He also trained up assistant trainers (now trainers) and taught them how to build instruments, how to work with traumatised children, teaching skills and techniques. 


I ask him how this impacted him.

“It was good”, says Bashar, “I was young, and it was really refreshing experience, a really nice idea”.

“I used to dislike kids”, he says with a chuckle. “So, it is a good point, to meet these people and get to know them and learn about their experience for yourself. It had a big effect on me”.

Bashar tells me that, there was something relaxed nature and hierarchy of capoeira that he was playing with the refugees that really broke down a boundary: “it was just playing most of the time, not like a real teacher or a trainer, like above someone you know. It was playful; it was equal”.

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Bashar’s involvement with this project ended in 2010 when he had to complete his mandatory military service. Bashar explains if you do not complete your service your papers are taken away. 

“If you don’t finish your service, you have no papers, no freedom, no options” “If you don’t finish your service, you have no papers, no freedom, no options”

“In the beginning it was not too bad” says Bashar, “it was just easy kind of stuff, just the usual military service”. “Then in 2011 when the revolution started everything became much harder and dangerous”. 

Without his papers – which were now held by the military – his freedom was completely lost. To add to his troubles, his service had now turned into a conscription into the Syrian army and he was tasked with morally complex and dangerous dilemmas. 

As the situation heightened Bashar, who is a 100% pacifist, did not want to fight, he knew he had to get out. 

“What happened when people were caught without papers?” I ask.

“They take you, ask who you really are. It is really dangerous. Even if you did not do anything wrong, you can just disappear”

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Eventually Bashar managed to escape the war in Syria by fleeing to Beirut in Lebanon. “I tried to escape too many times to different places, but the easiest one was Lebanon.” Now a refugee in Lebanon, he faced the same problems when he was in Damascus. Without papers he could not travel or get a job. “I was stuck there for two years”. 

“It is not easy to get papers, I paid three times to get passport. Fake one, real one – I did not care. It did not happen for two years” 

During his time in Lebanon, he was forced to live mainly in hiding whilst he tried to register as a refugee. It was a heightened time of caution, if caught by the police, he would have been sent back to Syria. During this period, he was sharing a room with between 7 – 10 people. Access to food was also a massive issue and by 2013 he had lost a dramatic amount of weight. 

“Only the sea and Syria behind. There were no choices.”

Despite the difficult circumstances Bashar found himself in, he was still involved with several capoeira projects. He taught capoeira to Somali refugee children in East Beirut, worked with Syrian refugees through Save the Children and gave numerous presentations on conflict resolution on his journey to Germany. 

He occasionally made money through teaching at the local capoeira group, Sobreviventes, which he knew through the capoeira network he had become a part of in Syria. However, he explains that “living in Beirut was so expensive, the projects cannot really afford to give you money”.  Eventually, Bashar was forced to stop teaching as more and more Syrians were being stopped on the street by the police. If stopped, he has no papers and no money for bribes. 

“The Syrian government gave a new law which gave permission Syrians outside of 

the country to obtain a passport.” This was welcome news to Bashar, “I didn’t know about it before, so I asked someone inside and a mother of a friend went and found it that it would be possible for me”. 

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With his new papers Bashar was able to travel to Berlin, where he met Tarek again. “It was a sort of coincidence, I don’t remember who told me Tarek was here, or maybe he sent something telling me he was in Germany”. Bashar then laughs telling me that he was surprised, “I am sure he had always told me he didn’t like staying in Germany”. 

“It felt like cycling to a workshop in Damascus” said Tarek who helped Bashar to get the class off the ground.

“Bashar is an incredible talented trainer; the kids and other trainers are fascinated by him. He has more life experience than a seven live cat.”

Just like several years ago in Damascus, Bashar and Tarek decided to team up to work on a project here in Berlin to help refugees through capoeira. “He was looking for a project to support, and I had this idea to do something, but it is not that easy here in Germany with the paperwork and the bureaucracy”. With Capoeira4Refugees able to give Bashar support, the idea got off the ground, “I really just need someone to help, if he can do the paperwork I can play capoeira with the kids again”

Bashar started the Berlin Project. The project has been running since May 2018 at the Refugee Centre in Neukölln. Every Monday Bashar, along with a small team of enthusiasic volunteers Elisabeth, Tom, Paul Amaja and guests, works with refugee children between 5-12 years old in groups of 15-30. The children who he works with are mainly from Syria and the Balkans. You can hear the children from the Refugee Shelter Haarlemer Strasse chanting ‘Ola e lala’ one of the songs they while walking us to the gate.  

The project aims to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of the children in a safe space. Using capoeira as a healthy outlet, they try to foster intercultural understanding and tolerance in the children and contribute to their integration into society.

Bashar is deeply passionate about the project, Tarek tells me that Bashar has always both hands full and can sometimes be hard to contact, in fact it took two attempts to get him to meet for an interview. However, he never misses a session with the children. Bashar is delighted to behind the project and more so to playing capoeira with the kids again. However, it is not with its challenges. As most the kids here speak German or other languages, “I don’t really have Germany yet, only a few words. If I say something the kids they sometimes make fun of you or don’t understand you.” 

He smiles, “I don’t just want to give up, if I don’t have the words I start to act and give expressions. Sometimes this might be scary for them if I look crazy – but I am not giving up”.

Bashar’s refusal to give up is a reflection of his determined character and strong personality. Bashar just stared another class in Berlin, Kreuzberg for underprivileged youth with mostly immigrant background and I am sure more will follow. Outside of the Berlin Project, music is a huge part of his life – he makes his own music and one day he plans to release his own album. As our conversation draws to a close, we discuss how no matter where he has gone or what circumstances he has been in, he has always been trying to make a positive change to people’s lives through capoeira. From Syria to Beirut to Berlin – Bashar laughs and informs me, “I am not as good a capoeira player as I used to be”.

 

Bashar wants to grow his social capoeira project to provide more classes for the children he currently works with. Will YOU support and help him? 

Click to share Bashar’s story on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and consider donating today if you feel inspired by his work! 

Photos taken and article written by Jack Anderson, C4R’s Social Media Network Coordinator– September 2018.

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FICA Capoeira Angola Stockholm

Project

FICA Capoeira Angola Stockholm

Location

Stockholm, Sweden

Target

A majority immigrant community in Stockholm

Impact

Asa has been practicing Capoeira and training students in Capoeira for over 30 years in Sweden. She has spent significant time in Brazil practicing and learning Capoeira. There, she trained street children and children at the academy in the countryside of Brazil where she was living.

In Tensta, a suburb of Stockholm with a majority conservative, immigrant community (mainly Syrians and Somalis), she teaches Capoeira classes to the kids there with less opportunities than native Swedes. As she participated in a government-funded Stockholm Leaders Education program, she brought two Capoeira students (one Eritrean-born and one Sweden-born of Gambian descent) to Brazil on a field trip to teach them about the roots of Capoeira.

Topics

Marginalised communities
Free4Kids

Contact

Åsa Gustavii
E-mail: ficasweden@yahoo.se

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London School of Capoeira Herança: LSCapoeira Charity

Project

London School of Capoeira Herança: LSCapoeira Charity

Location

London, UK

Target

The London School of Capoeira Charity was established in 1995 to promote Capoeira as a cultural instrument as well as an educational tool. The charity reaches out to communities and individuals, facilitating joyful learning experiences of one of the most popular and enriching elements of the cultural heritage of Brazil, Capoeira.

Impact

The London School of Capoeira (LSC) champions wellbeing, health and a positive lifestyle through the practice and promotion of Capoeira and works to establish Capoeira as a mainstream art form in the UK.
The directors and members of the LSC work together to promote these values (wellbeing, health and positive lifestyle) through the art of Capoeira among children, adults, senior adults and minorities groups. Our work is extensive covering primary and secondary schools, arts and sport centres, theatres and museums in London and throughout the UK.

Topics

Arts
Education
Music
Children and Youth development
Culture

Contact

Website: http://www.londonschoolofcapoeira.com/component/k2/item/109-lsc-charity
Email: info@londonschoolofcapoeira.com

Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/176084979200/
Twitter: @londoncapoeira

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True Citizens Play For Nepal

Project

True Citizens Play For Nepal

Location

London, U.K. & Swoyombhu, Nepal

Target

True Citizens Play for Nepal hosts Capoeira classes, events and workshops in London. The proceeds from these workshops then go to the Aangan Foundation Nepal, a non-governmental organization working for the welfare of children in need and empowering women of rural Nepal with the motto “Together we can create a better society.”

Impact

The goal of the Aangan Foundation Nepal is to design, develop and implement social development programmes and activities including income generation, awareness and capacity building which are sustainable, environment friendly and beneficial to women, youth, children and the community at large. True Citizens Play for Nepal aims to support Nepalis in need as well. Lastly, True Citizens Play for Nepal hosts Capoeira classes for children in Swoyombhu, Nepal.

Topics

Arts
Education
Music
Children and Youth development

Contact

https://www.facebook.com/groups/688362574602624/

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Aluaiê Capoeira: The Afro-Brazilian Arts & Cultural Exchange Institute

Project

Aluaiê Capoeira: The Afro-Brazilian Arts & Cultural Exchange Institute

Location

London, Essex, Sussex & Kent, U.K.

Target

The Afro-Brazilian Arts & Cultural Exchange Institute is a charity based at the heart of London, which objective is to promote and to use Capoeira and Afro-Brazilian Arts to improve the life of the members of the community.Their projects include a Children’s Project, Parent & Children Project, Young people’s Project (11 to 17 years old), Special Needs Children’s Project, Vulnerable Adults Integration Project, Partially or totally visually impaired.

Impact

Capoeira Kids Classes at the Afro-Brazilian Arts & Cultural Exchange Institute are open to younger children and their parents. This way, children get a better sense of maintaining closeness, developing family unity, strengthening the degree of trust and bonding between each other, and improving the quality of life of the family as one. Their classes solely for children, aged 3-12, open them to interacting with each other, growing and learning Capoeira in a safe, nurturing and positive environment.

Children have the opportunity to develop their own style, to learn and be challenged by the movements passed on to them. Teachers encourage kids to interact with each other in singing and instrument playing. This course invites children to discover, explore and learn the beauty and mysteries of the Brazilian culture. But most of all, our Capoeira classes are based on having fun, as a mediator for learning.

Topics

Arts
Music
Children and youth development

Contact

Email: community@culturalexchange.org.uk
Website: http://culturalexchange.org.uk/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MestrandoJ

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East London Capoeira: Project Gem

Project

East London Capoeira: Project Gem

Location

London, U.K.

Target

Founded in 2000, Project Gem is a UK registered charity (No. 1090376) that uses arts activities as a means of engaging inner-city children within society. Project Gem primarily works in the UK and Brazil. It first began by using a Brazilian youth project called Grupo de Capoeira Ginga e Malicia (GCGM), as its blueprint. Founded and run by Mestre Marinheiro, GCGM has worked successfully with Capoeira in Salvador, Brazil, for more than 17 years – project Gem has been similarly successful.

Impact

In 2000, Project Gem teamed up with Simon Atkinson (Mestre Fantasma) of East London Capoeira (ELC) to offer free capoeira classes to young people.  In the last 10 years, the influence of capoeira in London has expanded beyond recognition. However, Project Gem and Mestre Fantasma continue to pioneer London capoeira in youth projects.  Project Gem and ELC share a vision of grass-roots capoeira in London, where young people are encouraged to play capoeira with adults from all social backgrounds and nationalities.  This reflects the learning environment of the best capoeira groups in Brazil, which produce some of the most talented and inspiring capoeira players of this generation. They believe that the new projects started today in London will produce some of the next generation’s finest capoeira players, capable of interacting with confidence in a unique and increasingly global community.

Topics

Arts
Music
Children and youth development

Contact

Website: http://www.capoeira.co.uk/what-is-project-gem/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eastlondoncapoeira/