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.