Kickboxing as a means for youth empowerment
Young members of the kickboxing club in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in South Sudan participated in a tournament that brought together a large crowd of people from all parts of the PoC, promoting peace and inclusion. The club was founded by a former kickboxing professional after he decided to no longer take part in gang activities but returning to his kickboxing training as a means of curbing his aggression, frustration and trauma from the civil war.
All matches were friendly and all club members celebrated a group victory at the end of the tournament. Danish Demining Group (DDG) promoted the event with the slogan ‘’Sports not War’’, which emphasizes the overall goal of the kickboxing club and is aligned with DDG’s Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) activities in the region. The winners of the tournament were awarded trophies and titles that they hold for a year, which all members of the club are hoping to compete for again next year.
“The tournament was one of the few events that I have come across within the camp that is helping to create the terms according to which youth are being engaged. It brings a change in the youth culture and in the way they look at boxing as a sport rather than a culture of fighting. It will also make people see how sport can support cooperative behavior”, says Gabriel Bot, DDG Mine Risk Education (MRE) Assistant and resident of the PoC.
Kickboxing trainings used to take place under a tree in the buffer zone of the PoC. DDG recognized the potential of the club and supported it in securing a space within the Youth centre where regular trainings could be facilitated. In ongoing discussions with DDG, the founder of the club showed great interest in using the club as a referral point for ‘troubled’ youth or youth who were at risk of engaging in violence/criminality in order to teach discipline and tolerance.
“The tournament provided an opportunity for members of the kickboxing club to come together and showcase their skills. Previously there has been a lot of negativity associated with the kickboxing club due to an unfounded belief that they were encouraging violence or even training an army. Instead, we have found that the kickboxing club has taken in some individuals with a violent history alongside those who haven’t and taught them discipline, tolerance and teamwork. This has in turn encouraged them to change their behaviour for the better. Whereas those who had violent histories were ostracized because of their past, they now have a support group, feel included and want to be seen in a better light by their peers and community”, says Hannah Rose Holloway, Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) Project Field Manager in DDG.
Picture by: Ben McCabe
The club has maintained a total inclusion policy – i.e. welcoming those from all counties despite differing political backgrounds and the ongoing ethnic/county rivalries being experienced in Unity state – and sought support from agencies to become a formalized club and support group.
“Kickboxing is playing big role in the community by building better relationships between youth living in different locations and brought the population to one cup as a sign of peace and unity to the community. As Humanitarians or DDG, the Kickboxing club needs to be supported so that they can improve and so that the community can live without disturbance”, says John Chuol Gatdit – internally displaced person (IDP) and competitor in the tournament, who is living in Bentiu PoC.
Under the Young, Empowered, Safe! (YES!) initiative, DDG has further supported the kickboxing club with the construction of a locker room/storage unit and in the preparations for the kickboxing tournament by assisting in e.g. coordination, promotion and the construction of a ring.