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Meet Marwan, Changemaker fellow, Jordan

Marwan Ali Ghunaim, a self-proclaimed Capoeira evangelist, was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates and partly raised in Jordan. Marwan, who additionally has a Palestinian background, started his story with capoeira when he saw the sport on TV in Jordan over 20 years ago.

“I was impressed by what I saw and felt a deep desire to learn it! I had already been interested in both martial arts and dance and had done some taekwondo and break dancing in the past… so I thought what better way than to combine the two. Capoeira was it!”

Unfortunately for Marwan, there was no place that taught capoeira where he was living. However, in 2010, he was fortunate enough to meet and train with two capoeira gurus. One was Ms. Espolita, a capoeira master and healer and the second – Mr. Garnize, the founder of the Capoeira school CDO (Cordau de Oro) in Dubai.

 

Creating opportunities where there are none

From that point, Marwan’s passion and interest in capoeira continued to grow, which motivated him to establish the first ever capoeira group in Qatar in September 2013 with only a few members. The original members trained hard and the community that once was a few grew into a community of more than 200 people, participating in trainings and gatherings.

“Even after I left Qatar,” Marwan said, “I was so happy to see that the group remained active and continues to grow to this day.” Marwan recalls, “We once had a member of our group, Ahmed who was only able to train at the hotel where he was working, but was not allowed by the management to do so. Me and the other members did not think this was fair, so we rallied behind him and stood up for him. As a result, not only did the hotel management allow him to train, they offered to let the group train on the hotel premises. We were all very inspired by the outcome and grew closer because of it and capoeira played a big part.”

In 2014, he traveled to Bahia, Brazil for a month to study capoeira and understand more about the culture behind it. While in Brazil, he learned and trained in Capoeira Angola, the more conservative form of Capoeira, which focuses not only on the physical exercises but also on traditions, culture, values, unity, community cohesion, and resistance against injustice. He also met with many capoeira masters and developed a newfound appreciation for Capoeira and its culture. “The experience changed my life!”

Building connections, breaking down distrust

Upon his return to the Middle East, as a dedicated capoeira evangelist, Marwan created Capoeira United Middle East with the aim to bring capoeira players in the Middle East together.

“I wanted to promote the spirit and values of capoeira for unity and collaboration of diverse groups and peoples in the region.”, Marwan says. During this time, he worked closely with other organizations representing a range of areas including technology, education, and art. He received support from the Ministry of Education thanks to the program’s importance on the future of children’s education.

Marwan is also a passionate connector and networker. He was able to bring together 7 different capoeira schools in Dubai who had never communicated and who viewed each other with mistrust. “I envisioned creating a common platform for all the different groups to join as a common capoeira community.” He did this by first organizing a workshop for each teacher from the different schools to train.

“To my dismay”, Marwan says, “only 3 of 7 schools showed up. The second workshop though proved more successful and all 7 schools attended. To this day, the capoeira community continues to grow and thrive. I am so proud of this achievement!”

Marwan continues to bring together capoeira groups throughout the Middle East by convening events, workshops, and festivals. He is now aiming to invite capoeira schools in the Gulf and hopefully in a year or two have a regional capoeira event in Jordan. He also performs capoeira at public events and has participated in many performances throughout the world including those in Qatar, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Jordan, Spain, and Brazil, the birthplace of capoeira.

 

Making sense of losses

He also participated in a capoeira tournament in Azerbaijan where he won one round and lost another. “Despite having one win and one loss during this tournament, it taught me that Capoeira is not about winning and losing. Rather, it represents an art form to express oneself. I was so inspired by this realization and created a series of social events in Qatar called Mystic Earth that incorporated values taught within the Capoeira and promoted community building focusing on mind and body wellness and awareness.”

In 2015, Marwan first joined Capoeira4Refugees (C4R) to teach capoeira for refugees in Jordan where through teaching capoeira, he provided psychosocial support to vulnerable and traumatized refugee children. His first training opportunity took him to al-Azraq refugee camp in Jordan where he assisted Brazilian Capoeira Master Indio. “This was the first time I worked in a refugee camp and it made such a deep impact on me!” Marwan has since worked in other refugee camps to teach capoeira for C4R, including in the Za’atari refugee camp in July 2017. He also went to Irbid a local host community as a volunteer. He describes the amazing feeling he got seeing the children’s passion and excitement grow as they expressed themselves through capoeira and he aims to go back there soon and continue teaching them.

 

Is it magic or just capoeira?

Once a week, Marwan also trains mentally disabled children at the Nour Al-Barakah Garden in Amman, which was opened in 2012 by a group of mothers of teenagers with disabilities.

“Kids love and enjoy the classes, and I can see how confident these kids become as they develop their physical and mental abilities and how excited they are to learn and practice. This process hasn’t been easy for me though and I find it can sometimes be difficult to make progress and ensure that students are understanding the previous lessons, concepts, and movements. Nonetheless, I am so amazed by the progress and growth in the children in my classes. I recall one student who rarely spoke to anyone else before starting classes. After a few classes though, I saw him change and become much more engaged, active, and happy. This is the effect that capoeira can have!”

Marwan is the newest Awardee and Changemaker to join the C4R Changemaker Programme and is excited to further grow and develop his exciting capoeira projects as he continues his work as a capoeira evangelist.

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Meet Amar, Changemaker fellow, from Pakistan to Peru

Capoeira for communities with limited access to education

Amar has always been a humanitarian. First, he was going to be a doctor, then a computer scientist. Then a teacher of business, art and ethics. Somehow, he managed to find his way towards being a Capoeirista. From his experience living and growing up in Pakistan and his recent experience working in Peru, he has focused on showing the positive impact that capoeira can have on women and children.

“It becomes particularly relevant to develop personal and social skills in vulnerable children with no access to such education.”

Nonetheless, Amar says that things are slowly changing for the better as education becomes more accessible to all and with renewed efforts, there will be more girls and women playing and teaching Capoeira in Pakistan as time goes by. “I am sure that Peruvian and Brazilian female Capoeira teachers will be instrumental in helping to address this shortfall in conjunction with Pakistani female student Capoeira teachers.”

How Capoeira and Pakistan fell in love

Amar first introduced Capoeira to Pakistan in 2007 as the pioneering teacher of this art, back when no one had any idea what it was. There was no cultural frame of reference beyond the acrobatics, music or references to a Tekken character available to connect to this ritual for most Pakistanis.

“Children and adolescents from the nearby slums or other impoverished areas who saw what I was doing seemed to intuitively understand the nature of the game. They would join in with myself and my students having fun, jumping and playing, making cartwheels and music and singing exuberantly. It was an amazing experience!”

This experience though underscored the harsh reality of children forced to grow old before their time so they could survive harsh conditions of living. “It was for this reason that I became convinced that the need that this art and ritual could play a pivotal and positive role in their lives. Capoeira calls out to its own. Those who speak its language even though they have not been taught by any mentor. They have learned Capoeira’s lessons themselves through life’s harsh experience.”

Passion for Capoeira’s historical roots

“I discovered that this community of people, the Sidis in India and Pakistan, they play a primitive version of the berimbao, as a part of their socio-religious ritual. We Capoeiristas, use metal wires while they still use organic plant or animal fibres. In South Asia, the instrument is called a Malunga. Historical connections to capoeira culture are easily discernible.”

Amar’s focus is not solely the sport of Capoeira, but the broad and colourful musicality, history and culture of Capoeira. This has led him to research the presence of communities in Pakistan that have kept alive traditions (such as making instruments or ritual songs) relating to Capoeira as well as associated Afro culture in South Asia on a wider level. Cultural preservation of these skills is necessary and Amar is planning to give workshops, gather and keep alive the specific knowledge of these communities and share them with the youth. He wants to create centres for education and training, including the theoretical, but also the vocational aspects.

Lyari in Karachi, while also being one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Karachi is also well known for its violence, lawlessness and poverty. This slum is the historical center for the long resident urban Sidi population in the South of Pakistan. The Sidis are descendants of Bantu peoples settled in the area and whom have retained intimate connections to their African motherland through music and ritual. Lyari is also well known for producing athletes in football and boxing. However due to the historical marginalisation of Afro peoples in South Asia, this immense potential is wasted due to lack of opportunities of funding and training.

In his work, he would like to exemplify how Sidi culture links to capoeira, make allies, conduct awareness and technical workshops, help to observe and document rituals alongside more practical measures such as movement and music classes of Capoeira.

Experiencing change firsthand

Amar discusses: “A wonderful paradox that has kept me deeply curious about Capoeira since I started playing almost 20 years ago. I have seen the same delight as mine on students faces as they discover more about what Capoeira is and what it means to them.

A game that offers a respite from their daily struggles where they can recover the spontaneity of childhood games. In so doing they find a chance for an education and inclusion within a safe and encouraging community so they can learn and grow as part of something positive on their way to becoming productive and healthy members of society.”

Since that beginning over a decade ago, Amar has personally ensured that Capoeira in Pakistan grows into the small nascent community of students and student-teachers from all walks of life present today.

“Orphans, diplomats, refugees, artists, students, business people,  street children, professionals, foreigners, musicians, teachers and locals all training and performing together and collectively learning as part of a diverse community that not only accepts differences but knows they are a strength and not a weakness.”

 

Plans for the future

Amar has been lucky enough to experience much of the world through Capoeira. He has done all he can to help others progress on their way as good friends and teachers have helped him along.

Being a Changemaker Fellow has helped him to achieve his dream of dedicating himself to utilising the transformational power of Capoeira in changing the lives of those who need and understand it. To the dispossessed and marginalised wherever he may be able to reach out to them through his work. Capoeira is most meaningful and useful to those who suffer prejudice and injustice.

The mission is still the same as it ever was, though now Amar is part of a global network that can do so much more then he or his students ever could on their own.

“I have known from the very beginning that my journey in Capoeira would be a lifelong one. For now, it is enough to deepen my studies and continue to share knowledge in the hope that the students that I have taught and will teach, continue to grow and on their own path share what they have learnt in the spirit of giving to others what Capoeira has given to them. A family and a community in which they can grow and learn positive living.”

Amar is currently working in Peru and collaborating with other Peruvian Angoleiros who share a common vision of growing an active community of Capoeira Angola engaged with social work. Connecting Brazil, Peru and Pakistan through cultural and educational exchange is thereby part of a bigger plan.

After initiating and establishing work in Peru, he looks forward to returning home to Pakistan to expand and fortify connections between and within Brazil, Latin America and South Asia inside the roda of Capoeira.

 

 

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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 and Paulo’s 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 invited M Roberval to join her and Grupo Filho de Angola was established.

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 started to learn capoeira angola in depth and began to work seriously to understand this complex art form.  In 2002, she graduated as Treinel by Master Rosalvo and his Capoeira group Vadiaçao and in 2004, Åsa and her 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) that 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.”

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, percussion 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 were involved in this programme and came to Tensta in Stockholm several years 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 physical education teacher for 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 (Arbetsmarknadsförvaltningen) of the city and the European Social Fund where she works with outreach to establish relationships with young people between 16-29 years in segregated areas that suffer exclusion. 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.

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 by her outreach work.

”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.”