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Meet Åsa, Changemaker fellow; Sweden

First steps in the art of Capoeira

Åsa first started Capoeira 30 years ago with a well-known Capoeira master Peixinho, with Grupo Senzala in Amsterdam in 1987. ”It gave me such a good feeling to to do the movements and I knew that I found my passion.” Åsa continued to train in Capoeira but  with another teacher named Paulo Siqueira in Hamburg. That same year, her native Sweden’s first capoeira workshop was held in Stockolm by her teacher. After that the Stockholm Capoeira Association was formed.

Two year later in 1989, she moved to Gothenburg, Sweden to study theater science at the local university. During this time, Åsa and her teacher participated at the Falun Folk Music Festival three years in a row showcasing Capoeira movements. She also formed a capoeira group in Gothenburg under the leadership of Capoeira Master Dodo called Adaba. Åsa invited several other capoeira masters to become involved in the Capoeira scene in Sweden and she helped form groups around the country.

In 1994, Åsa visited Salvador, Brazil and trained with prolific Capoeira masters like Joao Pequeno, Pe de Chumbo, Jogo de Dentro and Claudio.

”That experience impacted me in such a profound way; it was during that time that my passion truly grew and I knew that this was my calling.”

Upon returning to Sweden, Åsa became acquainted with Capoeira masters Rosalvo, Roberval and Laercio, who she had invited to Sweden. In 1997, she along with M Roberval leadership established Grupo Filho de Angola.

Constant work to develop her passion

Åsa continued to pursue opportunities to practice and promote Capoeira and regularly visited Mestre Rosalvo and Contra Mestre Suzy in Berlin and also traveled to various international events throughout Europe. A pivotal time in her Capoeira career happened at Academia Jangada in Berlin, where she learned capoeira angola in depth and began to work seriously to understand this complex art form.  In 2002, she began training with Master Rosalvo and his Capoeira group Vadiaçao and in 2004, Åsa and her own group in Stockholm became part of the FICA (Fundaçao Internacional Capoeira Angola) under the direction of Master Cobra Mansa, who began annually visiting Stockholm. It was at this time when Åsa began traveling regularly to Bahia, Brazil to advance her capoeira training. Later in 2004, she launched an international youth exchange project in partnership with Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) in a suburb of Stockholm, Fittja, which is a primarily immigrant and refugee community. Young capoeiristas from FICA, who had spent time in Massaranduba Alagoas in Salvador, Brazil, were invited to teach in Fittja.

In the summer of 2008, Åsa began working as a social worker in an outreach program in the Stockholm-suburb of Tensta (another majority immigrant community) launches Capoeira activities and classes. Her capoeira group there began collaborating with the district’s crime prevention efforts among young people and saw the positive effect that Capoeira can have on youth.

”I saw amazing transformations of children who I was teaching through teaching Capoeira. Children became more disciplined and expressive through Capoeira. The change was so inspiring!”

Capoeira as a tool of deep change

Åsa went on to work as a physical education teacher in a school in Tensta, which is also one of Sweden’s most socially charged schools. Her capoeira group also began to engage with local associations in Tensta and over the years, they organised a series of events including a carnival and a talent show held during the annual Tensta Market. ”What I realised was so important to the success of these initiatives,” Åsa recalls, ”is that the the participants’ families are involved and supportive.” Åsa started a Leadership Program called Potential Leaders and escorted two young students in the group to their parent organization in Brasil. ”Their perspective broadened and I saw them change in positive and long-lasting ways.”

The group in Tensta also runs different orchestras during school holidays involving teachers and students’ families in addition to summer camps and various open workshops in the park with dance, circus or maskmaking. For the past four years, Åsa has also been running the Women Power Conference, which was organized with the aim of strengthening female leaders in the art of capoeira. Female masters and teachers of capoeira angola like Tisza, Gege and Adi with contra master Suzy in Europe were involved in this programme and came to Tensta in Stockholm to represent strong examples of female capoeiristas. Another aim of this initiative was to put Tensta on the map through the international capoeira network involving local organisations.

As Åsa worked as a sports teacher during 20 years at various suburban schools in   Stockholm and has worked with and mentored many young people and their families. Åsa’s students are from all over the world, and through them she has come to know about different cultures that would otherwise be completely foreign to her.  She also discovered through her travels and intercultural work that capoeira and afro-brazilian culture has connections with the islamic and arabic culture. In fact, the Somali-Swedish community in Stockholm has become a part of her heart.

Difficult work is necessary work

Today, Åsa is employed as an outreach youth consultant through the Labor Market Administration of the city and the European Social Fund where she is looking for and establishing relationships with young people between 16-29 years in segregated areas that suffer exclusion, including Tensta. Her work in this capacity is to motivate and be a link to authorities and other support organizations who these young people oftentimes depend to finish school or to find decent work. Åsa works in suburbs of northwestern Stockholm, which unfortunately suffered from various riots and similar incidents the last years. With sadness, Åsa has followed several of the young people who have grown up in these areas, who are no longer with us. One after another, several of these young men have been murdered by other young men in gangs.

Åsa’s aim today is to work systematically with relatives and other close networks and young people directly in these suburbs to offer mentoring support through Capoeira and other ways.

”Despite the many challenges, it is so stimulating – to work in a politically-managed organization where my observations, methodology and results affect political decisions in my city.”