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.