Meet the Capoeira Trainers: Mohammed

Mohammed shares his experiences in Raqqa

By: Catri Foot

Mohammed became a trainer, because of his love of the special sport. There he saw a chance to provide a new culture for both himself and the community that he lives in, as well as a job opportunity that suited him. 

He mentions what distinguishes the support “is that there’s no winner or loser”.

He first got involved with Capoeira at the beginning of the project after Faris, another trainer, proposed the idea to him. “Without my love of sports, and glory to be Allah, it came to my heart. It’s different, it has music, I even heard that capoeira has something spiritual”.

In a meeting with Amer, a trainer with 14 years of experience, they both agreed that the sport leaves the participant continuously learning because every once in a while you discover something new. 

For Mohammed, Capoeira is like a sea, not easy to reach its top, but its malleability allows room for creation in comparison to many sports with limiting and very specific rules.

“Only in capoeira we felt that we could, for example, compose songs by ourselves. Last time, we created a song, “Let’s play capoeira ya 3uyuuni [my eyes] Allah Allah”, this is from Samira Said [singer] song, and we applied it here.” 

He says, “After you know capoeira, you as a trainer or as a capoeira coach can create something for you based on its foundation. In addition, you can improvise, just like how poets improvise, you can improvise from yourself.”

According to him, the role of capoeira is to build trust among and create new friendships amongst children, despite coming from sporadic neighbourhoods. “One child”, he says, “gave the gift of a yellow flower to another child”. Children are taught to accept western cultures and others strange and foreign to them, allowing them to accept and understand other cultures better in the future.

“We were able to accomplish success stories like Taman and her brother. Tamam was displaced from Ba’dinli to Al Raqqa. Her brother feels ashamed of her because she’s sick and some kids bully her. We were able to fight the idea that her brother had about her, that she’s sick, even if she’s sick, so what? At the same time, we attracted the girl to play with us on the roda, I don’t know if you have seen the pictures. It’s unbelievable how she joined us, and this is truly a success story. This is regardless of their displacement and living in a tent. Now as a human, for me I feel like I’m offering something great to them when I see their situation, it’s something that… something that to be honest can’t be described into words.”

Meme, a girl with a disability, has the power to light up the room when she smiles – and makes Mohammed particularly happy. “One situation that made Meme smile is that one time we were playing the musical chairs game, so she was the last one with another boy, so she lost, the boy sat on the chair and she came and forced him to get up. She was so touched. If she didn’t have a disability, she would act like this. So that really impacted me. And her current smile is something that I don’t know how to express.”

Another story that touched him, is the story of two displaced sisters in camps they would teach at. Every day he would see them running from their mother to come train. It turned out she was their mother in law, as their father had been married twice, and they had left her working on the cotton fields. She said, “Once they knew there’s capoeira, they left their work to come play capoeira.”  

It made Mohammed sad because the two girls would go to work on the cotton fields from 6 am in the morning and come running to capoeira in the evenings at 5pm instead of going to school and learning, which wouldn’t have been the case if they were financially stable.

“When we first started teaching kids, we noticed that the boys do not accept playing with girls even if you cut his head [ it’s a way of saying even if you punish the boy, he would still not play with the girl]. It’s impossible.” Mohammed discusses the challenging and sensitive barriers for the children, especially the boys. “They just need some time to accept it, with a couple of days, In’Shaa’Allah we can help them break this barrier”.

From the different dialects on the camp, the nicknames of the organisation from the songs they sung, to breaking a clothing line whilst getting tangled standing on his head, some memories from the training sessions have really stuck out in Mohammed’s mind.

The training sessions have affected him in many ways, giving opportunities for new friendships, deepening existing ones – despite age differences, for example his friendship with the coach Osama. Physically training everyday and practising ginga, has also enabled comfort against pain in his lower back.

Meet the Capoeira Trainers: Ali

Ali shares his experiences in Raqqa 

By: Alessia Baker

It was the harmony and movements of capoeira that attracted Ali to explore the new sport in Raqqa. In a game of capoeira, there were no discussions among the children about who had won, as it often happened during a game of football.

Capoeira has a magic power to entertain all children, everyone enjoyed some part of the sport and they all wanted to join in. The sound of the music and the berimbau are very pleasant and the training sessions made the children always happy. One time, they created the ‘tree of feelings’ and all the kids expressed joy and excitement about playing the game. 

The most rewarding aspect of the sport for Ali is that it offers an opportunity to kids from different neighborhoods to meet, play and, through capoeira, become friends. Playing together helped them form new relationships and find the courage to interact with the other children. Ali shared a memory about a girl, called Reem, with delayed speech that also joined the games:

‘’Reem had delayed speech and we couldn’t understand what she was saying, so we asked her sister to explain to us what she was saying. We let her do whatever she wanted and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. When she saw her sister and her friends play in the roda, she slowly wanted to join…so I told her to try to join the game of capoeira, we even set up chairs for the musical chairs game and she started playing. The girl really enjoyed the game and started coming also without her sister’

The positive effect of capoeira touched many kids, helping them to open up and develop socially. Ali spoke in particular about a girl that was initially very confrontational with other girls and they almost got into a fight. Ali explained to her that they were all there to enjoy themselves and have fun together. The girl gradually calmed down and the situation improved.

Ali continued by adding that playing capoeira provided inspiration for the kids to express themselves and play kids’ games. Their psychological well-being has been deeply scarred, as the children have lived most of their lives in war-stricken cities.  War has always been present in their surroundings and they often mimicked it in their games – ‘when they wanted to play, they didn’t have a game, so they would play a war game, that’s their game, they don’t have any other one’ – explained Ali. 

One time, Ali recalls, they organised some capoeira activities in schools but some children couldn’t join the physical activities because they were injured. However, throughout the session the trainers asked the kids some questions, making them feel part of the activities. During the game they were chosen as winners even if they were not able to participate fully, and this made a huge difference for the kids.

These moments of acknowledgement really helped them feel more secure and cared for in their communities. It was also extremely rewarding for Ali to be able to make a difference in these kids’ day by giving them some attention and support.

Ali also shared that capoeira helped him to maintain his fitness and is really happy about the new connections he established with the kids. When he walks in the street, the kids shout out to him showing him the moves that they have been practicing from the previous session. A particularly fond moment for Ali is when the kids almost get scared when he does a ginga bringing forward both hands instead of just one, “He doesn’t know how to do ginga”- scream the kids and then they all start laughing.  

Meet the Capoeira trainers: Abd

By: Catri Foot

This sport is different from all the sports. Whoever follows it or watches it, it’s obvious that it’s different from all the sports

Our Capoeira trainer Abd, thinks sports in general are perfect for entertaining oneself, especially children. He agrees with Fares, another trainer in the sense of justice that arises from having no winner or loser – no chance for a discouraging defeat.

Capoeira he says breaks the barrier of shyness for children, developing a beautiful cooperation and assistance between each other.

Abd first learned of Capoeira through Fares, another trainer and a friend from elementary school. Meeting the trainer Amr Al Berzawi and adjusting to the ideas of Capoeira was unusual and surprising for him, as he didn’t know much before about sports. As was the idea of teaching a sport with elements of music, movements, and dance to young children.

In 2013 things changed and Fares told him about the new project and Abd had begun to appreciate the sport for its unique combination with music. And after all, it provided him with a stable job opportunity.

Capoeira gave the children he trained opportunities to escape the mental and social crisis that came about as a result of war, particularly affecting children. Many sought refuge in Nothern Syria, for example in Al Raqqa there were many cases of asylum. Provinces like Al Raqqa and Rif suffered and many got mentally tired.

In capoeira, I’m realizing that it improves their psychological state and gets them out of this crisis and most importantly, it breaks the shyness barrier

He says the sport encouraged boldness, gave the children room to explore and control their emotions – reducing tussle and feistiness, and attracted them to play in front and with each other creating new opportunities to meet others.

For him, just like Fares, the impactful moments have been in the kid’s center where they hosted contests and supported them. They’re kids with autism, so when they smiled it was so powerful.

Abd noticed a child standing on the end during a school performance, not wanting people to make fun of him because of a facial and leg distortion. He chose him and brought him to the front, asking him a question to earn a gift and making him really happy.

These happy moments happening in their lives are something awesome. It’s a feeling that the coach and all the other guys feel… It makes you feel like you made something, that you accomplished something big… This feeling helped us more than the kids, it helped us a lot. You see the happiness in a kid’s face is really priceless

Abd agreed with Mohammed, another trainer, that children began to become more open to playing with each other regardless of gender and improvements were seen in the courage of the children.

Also, another thing is shyness, getting out of their shyness, playing instruments, when we first brought the instruments, the kids didn’t want to play. They were shy; they were some kids who didn’t want to play at all. And there are kids, despite the weirdness of it [playing instruments], they wanted to “give me a beat on the tambourine” as they say. The tambourine is the pandeiro [portugees translation of tambourine].

A while ago, whilst practising capoeira moves negativa, esquiva, povera with the kids, Abd didn’t perform correctly because of an injured knee. He heard the four kids he had taught the movement whispering to each other, “The teacher is messed up”. He says it was only because his knee was messed up.

The training courses affected him in many ways, fitness for one – but most of all for changing his opinion of children. After years of not listening to children, hating children’s voices, he suddenly found children who had taken a special place in his heart.

Abd Alkarim Alaabed

Meet the Capoeira Trainers: Fares

Fares shares his experience as a capoeira trainer in Raqqa

By Alessia Baker

Fares became a trainer in 2013, he came to know capoeira through Amr Al Berzawi, another trainer that arrived in Al Raqqa, Syria, and started organising classes for children in the house where he lived. The first thing that attracted Fares’ curiosity was that capoeira was the only sport he knew that used musical instruments. Another aspect that he liked was that it was based on equality, it brought everyone together and there were no winners or losers in the game. He also noted that the classes were a way for kids to express themselves and for the adults to understand them and get to know them better.

‘‘It helps kids to express their personality, to have more courage by breaking the fear that they have. In the roda, we can tell if this child is sad, happy, or if this child is shy or courageous’’

Fares recounted how, at first, it was difficult to launch the capoeira training sessions in the camp. It was a new and unknown sport and the children were not interested. However, after a couple of demonstrations, the kids started joining in. Playing capoeira had an incredible effect, kids that were shy and didn’t talk much, let down their barriers and made new friends. Singing out loud the capoeira songs and correcting each other, really helped the children to build their courage and build new relationships.

Fares also added that the training channelled the childrens’ energy in constructive activities, instead of being naughty and wasting time, it also helped them release negative feelings.

‘There is one kid, Mohammed’-  Fares said, ‘who was often angry and aggressive, he is smart and very good at building things, but he used his skills to build weapons with objects that he found laying around. Playing capoeira completely changed his attitude, helping him to resolve his anger and put his skills to good use, he started building instruments like agogo and berimbau, which are used to play capoeira’’.

When asked to recall if there’s something that all capoeira sessions have in common, he answered that when he thinks about the training there is always laughter in his memories. Kids find funny the strange-sounding names of the instruments and their pronunciation of the words.

‘‘Everyone sings in their own dialect when singing the songs. As you know, the pronunciation should be in Portuguese, but our language is Arabic so the song will come out as broken,  the sound of the mixed languages turns out very strange’’

Fares also shared some of his favourite memories from training experiences. One time a boy that had attended the classes only twice, not enough to fully grasp the capoeira moves, returned to the classes and wanted to perform. Fares was astonished to see that the boy’s capoeira technique had greatly improved and found out that the kids had been teaching each other the steps and practising outside of the training times. He was really pleased to see that the kids were enjoying the sport and making it their own also outside class.

Fares al thakhera

Another time when doing a class for kids with special needs, he didn’t expect them to understand the activities, because he had been told that the majority were autistic and had difficulties communicating. He was really surprised when these kids were eager to participate, they enjoyed the sport and wanted to play the instruments. 

This experience and many others have shown him that capoeira really has something to offer to everyone and has the power to bring together all people and improve their lives through music and interaction. 

FrontlineAid: A tech driven solution to localising aid

By: Alessia Baker

FrontlineAid was born from the search for a practical and transparent solution for the remote management of locally owned projects, in order to support the operations of local organisations and facilitate their access to funding.

The background story: challenges to accessing funding 

It is often the case that many local organisations in remote or conflict areas are aware of communities’ necessities, but they lack the access to aid funds to develop their much needed projects. Instead, larger aid organisations control the money flows while falling short of understanding local needs.

A handful of international aid organizations receive ~99% of the world’s aid budget , ~$147Bn in 2017, and very little trickles down to smaller players. Commitments have been made to change this, namely the Grand Bargain was signed by over 50 of the largest aid organisations in 2016, setting a target to direct 25% of aid funding to local NGOs by 2020. However, as we enter 2021, nothing significant has changed.

When trying to attract funding for their projects, small organizations are faced with three fundamental challenges: heavy bureaucracy, lack of transparency, and very little visibility.

Local NGOs simply do not possess enough resources to deal with the load of bureaucratic work and accounting that comes with managing funding and meeting international reporting standards. 

The lack of transparency penalises smaller NGOs as they don’t have the means to track in detail what the funds are being used for, creating a lack of trust from the donors’ side.  

Smaller organisations’ visibility is also limited. Lacking the resources to promote their projects and relying on a small network for support, they are left with no chance of competing with international aid organisations.

The solution: harnessing tech to empower local organisations

FrontlineAid was developed as an online platform to help streamline the processes that are holding back small NGOs from attracting funding. The platform, ‘The Change Makers Hub’, is composed of a number of features that allow activities and funding to be tracked transparently building programs’ credibility and donors’ confidence.  

For example, one main feature is a project management tool that collects quantitative and qualitative data from running programmes. It displays on a dashboard the areas of implementation and the progress made towards clear targets. Best practices such as  the harmonizing reporting 8+3 template have been also adopted to improve transparency and accountability. The platform also functions offline, collecting data that will then be uploaded once there is a viable internet connection.

The platform also functions as a fundraising tool that simplifies transaction processes. In this way, donors will find it easier to donate to specific projects driven by local organisations, instead of allocating larger sums to general targets set by international organisations.

Social media content can also be stored on the platform. Aid workers on the ground can easily upload photos and real-time data to document the progress made. The platform will also be linked to social media accounts (Facebook, IG, Twitter..) allowing to pull content directly from the relevant channels.

FrontlineAid also functions as an App which is easily accessible with a cellphone. The App offers a number of tools which have the aim to connect possible collaborators and volunteers in an effective and user-friendly way. 

The potential of FrontlineAid as a tool to build local organisations’ agency has already been extensively recognised, attracting the interest of government entities and multiple organisations. There is in fact, in the aid sector and the non-profit-sector at large, an increasing need for tech- enabled solutions for better collaboration and resource management.

FrontlineAid is now a pioneer in harnessing the potential of technology for improving aid operations in Syria, proving the importance of empowering localised aid organisations and revolutionizing the way funding is distributed. 

FrontlineAid takes part in BMZ and Kwf Virtual Conference on Digitalisation and Remote Management for Global Development Cooperation

By: Alessia Baker

From the 19th to the 21st of January the virtual international conference organized by BMZ and Kfw discussed how digitalisation and Remote Management, Monitoring, and Verification (RMMV) can help organisations and institutions to improve the impact in global development cooperation.

Under the title ‘Remote Beneficiary Involvement; can it work?’ FrontlineAid was invited to share their experience in using technology as a solution for localization of projects in the conflict-stricken city of Raqqa, Syria.

Ummul Choudbury, Co- Founder of FrontlineAid explained how the organisation first came to be: searching for a solution to improve the activities of local aid organisations after years of dealing with setbacks while managing the NGO Capoeira4Refugees in Damascus:

‘’Out of frustration we looked to find solutions for grassroots organisations competing for around 1% of all foreign aid – out of pot worth 147 billion dollars’’

‘’The Vision behind the technology platform FrontlineAid is to put the local community in the driving seat whilst meeting the needs of the aid system in fragile contexts, such as that in al Raqqa, Syria.

Ummul explained how local organisations are struggling to access funds because they lack the man-power and knowledge to comply with international monitoring and evaluation standards. Lack of transparency and visibility, due to their isolated and disadvantaged position, are also keeping them from receiving funding.  

Chamit Fernando, consultant and former Deputy-Head for UN Habitat Syria, provided a clear picture of the devastation and collapse of trust that the war brought to Raqqa and FrontlineAid’s intervention to support local communities.

Sanctions and restrictive financial  measures made transaction and communication impossible. Strongmen were being used for physical cash transfers, causing the diversion of funds and bad publicity in the eye of the international public opinion, leading to tightened donor restrictions. Decisive steps had to be taken to evaluate the situation and rebuild networks of trust in the area and with Western donors.

To this aim, a remapping and risk-assessment of the areas was carried out to comply with international requirements from the UN, the German government, and Kfw. 

FrontlineAid provided a platform fitted with a system that monitored progress made by following pre-agreed targets. Then, project managers close to the communities were trained to ensure that projects were in line with the needs of the beneficiaries and supported by them. Modules for the expression of community grievances were also introduced to better engage with the community and their requests.

Social media also plays a key bridging role: connecting images and information to the relevant projects and also allowing diasporic communities and individuals displaced by the war’s to recconnect.

Ummul provided a practical example of how the new platform can collect the voices of people on the ground: through its FrontlineAid changemakers node a group of 500 people in Syria (80% mums) was surveyed. They were asked what they most needed at that moment and which local initiatives were best placed to provide these services. By speaking in a language enabled phone the women expressed their need for safe spaces and activities for their kids. 

These points led to online and offline discussions among local board members who decided to fund the development of 10 schools, 4 parks, the planting of trees and city clean-ups, also establishing consortiums for collaboration between organisations.  

Ummul concluded by pointing out the modular nature of the FrontlineAid platform that can be customized to individual’s needs. Designed to meet the bottom-up needs of the grassroots, as well as the top- down needs of donors and project staff.

Workers on the ground will be able to manage and own their own data, uploading geo-tagged images and data in real time by using a smartphone, making it ‘as simple as doing a doodle on a napkin’ to collect and share information about ongoing projects.

‘The collection and upload of real time data, will allow field workers to continue to work without the weight of large amounts of paperwork and reporting, it will also make it possible to act and support communities immediately, on the basis of the information received’’.