8 December 2011
Jalazone, West Bank
“Who is the most important person inside this room?” asked capoeira instructor Daniel Vallejo. “Me!” yelled the group of children from Jalazone refugee camp in reply.
Bidna Capoeira launched new activities in the West Bank on Tuesday with support from the Brazilian Representative Office of Ramallah.
Eight hundred Palestinian children have taken part in these Afro-Brazilian sport and art form since March 2011.
Speaking to the children, Ligia Maria Scherer, Head of the Representative Office of Brazil to the Palestinian Authority said: “One of our aims is to promote freedom of expression and help you cope with the harsh realities of occupation.”
According to the principal of the UNRWA boys’ school, Ahmad Assi, since last semester, there has been improvement in behaviour and learning among students that have participated in capoeira. “We targeted hyperactive kids and immediately noticed a positive change.”
Capoeira’s benefits extend to instructors and parents. Vallejo, or Professor Arame as his students call him, has been training in the refugee camps for the last nine months. “The occupation prevents refugee children from expressing themselves properly. This is where capoeira comes in. Here, we are brothers. The children even come by my house on my days off asking to be trained.”
Amina, whose daughter has taken part, expressed her excitement about the programme: “My daughter is always talking about capoeira. She loves the activities and her instructor.”
Bidna Capoeira puts a great emphasis on the participation of children. In fact, the organisation’s name, “came from children in refugee camps on the Syrian/Iraqi border,” said Tarek Alsaleh, Bidna’s managing director.
Capoeira has been an effective tool for creating solidarity and harmony among participants. “We’re like a family that works and practices together. Even kids that used to fight with one another are now friends. There are rules and we learn to follow them,” said 13-year-old Muhammad Nasser.