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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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Project Bantu Fundação Cultural Internacional

Project

Project Bantu Fundação Cultural Internacional

Location

Sydney, Australia

Target

Project Bantu is a therapeutic intervention that introduces Capoeira Angola to young people from Aboriginal or refugee backgrounds. The project combines the healing potential of musical and physical expression to produce a range of social and learning outcomes. Mestre Roxinho believes that his program “helps the kids to understand themselves, their lives, where they come from, to have an opportunity to put their heads up and face the challenge of day to day life.

Impact

Young people from Aboriginal and refugee backgrounds have often experienced high levels of trauma. Many have witnessed violence directly or indirectly through the experience of dispossession, conflict, living in refugee camps or coming from dislocated families and fragmented communities. Trauma affects a young person’s ability to concentrate and build trusting relationships with peers and people in authority, such as teachers. Compounded with often high levels of energy and physicality, serious behavioural issues can arise in the school and at home. Disrupted or limited education means that for many young people, the school environment is fraught with challenges.

The program originated in Brazil for homeless youth and young people in Juvenile Justice Centres and has been adapted to fit the needs of the young people at risk living in Australia. Young people who participated in the project in Brazil showed considerable improvement in their behavioural and social competence. Teachers observed an increase in both classroom cooperation and individual self-esteem. Young people were also found to be less likely to use illicit drugs or engage in criminal actions after participating in the project.Through the process of learning about all aspects of this enigmatic art, a dialogue is created whereby the student is able to develop a more positive, self-controlled and holistic sense of self.

Topics

Arts
Music
Children and youth development
Refugee

Contact

Website: http://projectbantu.org/
E-mail: projectbantu@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/projectbantu/?fref=ts

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Proyecto Casa Quilombo

Project

Proyecto Casa Quilombo

Location

Ecuador, Quito

Target

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.

Impact

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.

Topics

Marginalised communities

Contact

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ACANNE.Ecuador/

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ABADA CAPOEIRA LA PAZ

Project

Abada Capoeira La Paz

Location

La Paz, Bolivia

Target

Provide access to the knowledge and benefits of capoeira and use this as an inclusion / training tool for good citizens, which in the future will be leaders and community leaders.

Impact

It was established in Bolivia in 2009 by initiating work with the CEIFMA “Centro Educativo Integral Félix Méndez Arcos” as an activity for children and adolescents who, due to their vulnerability and exclusion from society, had psychological problems of low self-esteem that reflected their low school performance reaching desertion or school dropout, apart from always being involved in fights between their peers. The arrival of capoeira to CEIFMA had a very positive response and great acceptance in a short time. Rules and rules of conduct were implemented to be a participant in the classes in which we saw:

• Academic performance at school
• Personal hygiene
• Behavior with the community
• Performance in training

Thanks to that intervention today we have young scholars in the music conservatory, also the case of a young man who plays in the Corintias football team in Sao Paulo in a minor division and continues to train capoeira. Many of the young people of the 2009-generation are parents already, some attend classes depending on their possibilities, they have achieved more than stable life.

Topics

Free4Kids

Marginalised communities

Contact

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/abadacapoeira.bolivia
Facebook page 2: https://www.facebook.com/abada.bolivia/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/abadabolivia/videos
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abada_bolivia/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ABADABOL

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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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Capoerê by the Association Filhos de Bimba

Project

Capoerê by the Association Filhos de Bimba

Location

Beirut, Lebanon

Target

Underprivileged young Lebanon people, girls living in an orphanage

Timeline/milestones

Where we are now

Association Filhos de Bimba – Lebanon is working jointly with Fight For Peace (UK) on the organization’s strategic plan. So far they have done the following:

1- SWOT Analysis

2- Theory of Change

3- Association’s Pillars/Values

4- Development and design of new activities

Additionally, they have become members of Trust Law which will allow them to get advice on governance and organizational issues when needed.

They are also running classes in an orphanage attaining 40 young girls between the ages of 10 and 16. They applied to a grant by the Australian Embassy and submitted their project to two education Centres (1 in Beirut and 1 in the Bekaa area). If successful, the project will attain a total of 200 young Children.

What do we want to achieve

Sustainability in the programmes they offer. Down the line they would like to run capoeira classes in Underprivileged areas in Lebanon and open 1 capoeira centre in a community as well as form capoeira professors from the young people we will be working with.

What is the timeline for doing so?

Year 1: finalize theory of change, association’s pillars/values, programmes, short, medium, and long

Term objectives, and identify projects, opportunities, and donors.

Year 2-3: Develop the programme “Form a Capoeira Professor” (not final name), look for opportunities, develop the staff’s capacity, and identify the needs of the project based on the assessments. Identify a community where the centre can be based. Look into the social enterprise model and what it takes to move towards it.

Year 4-5: build the centre.

History/Impact

Association Filhos de Bimba – Lebanon has been working with young people in social projects since 2009, and since then has used Capoeira to work with over 500 underprivileged young children between the ages of 8 and 15 coming from Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

In 2012 they were selected to be part of Fight for Peace’s Global Alumni programme (GAP web address), and are now part of a global network of 135 organisations who are all using boxing and martial arts to work with young people affected by violence. In 2016, the association received a 2 years funding from Himaya and UNICEF to work with more than 300 young people in refugee camps all over Lebanon. Unfortunately, the funding by UNICEF was cut before the end of the year and they could not complete the project.

They believe that young people need supportive spaces in which to explore their emotions and reactions, while learning how to interact with others. In our work, we use the art of Capoeira to create opportunities for young people to come together to:

  • Work towards a shared goal;
  • show respect for others;
  • Share space and equipment.

By creating a free happy environment in which young people can work on their ability to interact with others in a positive manner, they have seen dramatic changes in young people’s behaviours and attitudes, often after short periods of starting to practice capoeira with us. For example:

  • One of the students shared a “new feeling” she started to get after joining the capoeira sessions: “I felt happiness that is something I never felt before.”
  • One of the 13-year-old students used to hit her head in the wall whenever she got angry. This behaviour stopped after the sessions of Capoeira.
  • One of the students once surprised them with his demonstration of leadership skills and initiative, by bringing his friend to class and by proudly stating he has been teaching him Capoeira outside of class hours for months.

Topics

  • Free4Kids
  • Marginalised communities
  • Refugees

Capacity

  • Staff: 3 people (2 trainers / 1 assistant and administrator)
  • They do not have a venues, currently they work in schools, centres, or Camps

Contact

Facebook: www.facebook.com/capoeiralebanon/
Instagram: @fbeclebano