Capoeira4Refugees at the Social Forum 2020: Good Practices, Success Stories, Lessons Learned and Current Challenges in Combating Poverty and Inequalities

Author: Alessia Baker

Every year the Social Forum is convened by the Human Rights Council to provide a platform to allow multiple stakeholders to discuss human rights issues. This year the Forum took place on the 8th and 9th of October at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The session focused on actions and practices for poverty relief under the guiding title: “Good Practices, Success Stories, Lessons Learned and Current Challenges in Combating Poverty and Inequalities”.

The first session on the ‘Factors perpetuating inequality and intergenerational transmission of poverty, and how to overcome them’, addressed the importance of the role of government institutions in implementing reforms at societal level that will help people in poverty to receive support and build new opportunities. Special emphasis was made on the urgency of supporting women, especially in the face of the current pandemic crisis which has resulted in even bigger burdens on women. The interlinked nature of the causes of poverty was also highlighted, showing how issues are often closely connected, locking individuals in vicious cycles of poverty. The importance of food systems was also stressed, drawing connections between the lack of food security and the aggravation of dependence from aid support and the deterioration of environmental resources.

Capoeira4Refugees contributed to the event by sharing a video of the NGO’s activities in conflict areas and in refugee camps in Syria and Palestine, where learning Capoeira offers a safe place for kids to ‘let go’ and play with their friends and families. The video testimony explained how the kids living in these difficult conditions find in Capoeira away to release the tensions and also learn the self- discipline to face the challenges oftheir daily lives.

The video also stressed the importance of listening to the local community’s needs and tailoring support to real necessities. Furthermore, the people need to own the projects that are supporting their communities, in order to meet their necessities effectively. Adopting better technology to streamline processes within the aid sector and external players was also highlighted as a key factor in improving the activities of small organizations and their access to funding.

The closing session: ‘Global-Local Interlinkages I: Obstacles to Realizing the Right to Development and to Addressing Poverty and inequality’, echoed in many ways one of the leading points of Capoeira4Refugees’ activities: technology can help communities support their own development. Panelists discussed how technological transfers can help narrow the divide with developed countries, giving access to sources of information and networks. Especially in the wake of the pandemic that forced people into lockdown and restricted their movements, showing how technology and access to the internet has gained ever more importance.

Overall, the Social Forum 2020 presented an important opportunity to come together to tackle issues of poverty and inequality that affect many vulnerable communities worldwide. For Capoeira4Refugees it was a great chance to share the ‘magic’ of Capoeira, as well as valuable insights on how to work better within the aid sector.

Podcast Blog

In a sit down with our Head of Communications, Jack Anderson, our co-founder Ummul Choudhury has a quick chat about her forthcoming book ‘United Nonsense’.

Having worked in the global aid sector for over a decade – including Syria, Palestine andmore recently with refugees in Berlin – Ummul has immense first hand experience andworking knowledge in the field. After setting up C4R and winning several internationalawards (including best small charity), she has turned her attention to exposing the flawednature and disconnected culture of the international NGO system.

Not only does Ummul’s role as a female leader add a necessary salience to the narrative, but her account is made even more unique because it comes from the perspective of someone from “a minority background, [a] Bengali Asian who grew up in London from aworking class background”. This is a perspective, which unfortunately, is just not present in international aid. From a narrative perspective United Nonsense also looks through the optics of a small, newly-formed NGO that is trying to find its way the tricky bureaucratic terrain of the aid sector.

Throughout the book and in our chat, a point that keeps coming up is the disconnect between International NGOs such as the UN (described as ‘The Golden Circle’ and as ‘aidcartels’) and the needs of the local people on the ground. Ummul along with C4R have been at the forefront of the pushing the localisation dialogue – something which aims to put the needs and voices of local people at the centre of any project. Have a listen to the podcast below and find out more about what Ummul’s forthcoming book United Nonsense and the push for localisation in the aid sector.

Have a listen to the podcast below and find out more about what Ummul’s forthcoming book United Nonsense and the push for localisation in the aid sector.

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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.”


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”.


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”


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”. 


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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Proyecto Casa Quilombo


Proyecto Casa Quilombo


Ecuador, Quito


Proyecto Casa Quilombo aims to create a permanent spacefor Capoeira Angola, which serves as the basis for the generation of social and cultural projects with a focus on human development and group facilitation.


The ACANNE – EC Foundation, with the different projects and spaces that have been opened for the development of Capoeira Angola, has positioned itself as the first and only social capoeira project, training more than 1500 young people throughout the 17 years. In addition, as an important part in the formation, practice and tradition of Capoeira Angola, four international events have been held with the presence of their Mestre Renè Betancourt. Finally, with Capoeira Angola and other accompanying tools such as Gestalt psychotherapy, social projects have been developed to prevent risk behaviors with young people.


Marginalised communities




As we come to the end of 2017, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of generosity of spirit. To work in an NGO in war zones and areas of conflict, tests our ability to be the best of who we are. Daily, we are faced with much of the worst of humanity.

Reading the Charter for Change: localization of humanitarian aid, an outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit held in 2017, it seems to me that a lot of us in the sector as a whole have forgotten what it means to be generous of spirit. When we are faced with the fact that 0.2% of the aid that Western actors give makes it to local NGOs, we have to do some serious soul searching about how we got into this position.

Capoeira4Refugees has always worked at a grassroots level, and has a track record of empowering local actors. In fact, the projects that we have worked on have led to replication, local jobs, and local ownership since our very beginnings in Damascus in 2007/08. This means that in Syria, Palestine, and Jordan we were able to close down our offices knowing that the work with capoeira was carrying on and locally owned.

As Capoeira4Refugees has grown and developed over the years, we have always sought to retain that generosity of spirit. This has shown up in our desire to partner and share our knowledge as widely as possible. This has shown up through our recently launched grassroots Changemaker Award. This has shown up through the volunteers and supporters who have helped us to keep the organization going.

The Charter for Change is a reminder that we all have to remember why we give and what we expect to achieve from that giving. And that sometimes, we require more than the best of intentions. We need to have that generosity of spirit, which allows us to face the darkest sides of ourselves and still be the best of who we are.

Seasons’ greetings to everyone!!

We would love to have your continued support in our efforts to keep pushing boundaries, and creating a real change on the ground. Do you want to give your support? Please donate here.

I look forward to 2018 with hope.

All the very best,