Playing for Freedom
Summary of the Project
Jugando por la Libertad, meaning Playing for Freedom is an award winning capoeira project, empowering children and youth affected by extreme violence, poverty and forced displacement in the neighborhoods of Ciudad Bolivar and Cazuca in Colombia's capital of Bogota.
The project aims to advance community development, social inclusion, and physical and psychosocial wellbeing by building participants’ self-esteem, productivity and creativity.
Through capoeira, the project offers participants the access to a safe-place environment, a way to overcome traumatic experiences, the opportunity of empowerment trough building leadership capacities, the chance to improve their school performance and physical well being as well as obtaining a source of income.
In September 2013, Jugando por la Libertad won the Beyond Sports Award for Sport for Conflict Resolution.
Cazuca and Ciudad Bolivar, Bogota
The communities of Cuidad Bolivar and Cazuca are two densely populated neighborhoods, mostly composed of informal settlements, located in the Southeastern outskirts of Colombia’s capital Bogota. At least 10 - 30% of the communities’ inhabitants belong to the group of “Internal Displaced People” (IDPs), who had to flee from different regions of Colombia after having been threatened by the country’s five-decade armed conflict.
According to a 2013 report by the UNHCR, with 80% of its population living under the poverty line and 50% of its settlements being illegal, Cazuca belongs to Bogota’s most marginalized regions. Moreover, illegal armed groups remain active in the area carrying out from extortion rackets over drugs, arms and human trafficking to forced prostitution and child labor. In 2013, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Colombia reported the existence of insurgent groups operating in Cazuca whose activities include recruitment of minors, forced prostitution, social cleansing and assassinations.
The above presents a glimpse of the challenging environment in which the inhabitants of the Cuidad Bolivar and Cazuca neighborhoods live on a daily basis, often traumatized and terrorized by the escalating violence. Additionally, the area suffers from an extremely weak educational system making opportunities for children and youth very scarce.
Marginalized children and youths
Like in many “red zones” like this throughout Colombia, one of the most vulnerable groups among the population is the one of marginalized children and youths, not only are lacking education opportunities and in some cases even basic nutrition, but also being at risk for drug abuse, becoming victims of different forms of violence or getting involved in gang activities.
Marginalized youth, particularly in conflict-ridden places like this, face unique economic and social obstacles; flawed or interrupted education, language barriers, a lack of skills for employment, and often discrimination and exclusionary social environments. These factors put these young people at a serious disadvantage in terms of their individual and collective development.
Playing for Freedom has already been in place for 6 years, having shown tremendous success for which it won the 2013 Beyond Sport award for Sport for Conflict Resolution. The project addresses the problematic situation of children and youth on six levels which stand in line with the component goals mentioned in the project description section.
- Creating a safe-place environment
By using capoeira, the project aims at developing a safe-space environment for children and youth through giving a providing a secure physical space in which children can freely express themselves, interact in a peaceful manner with each other and learn to resolve conflicts in non-violent manner, a sense of belonging to a group or family, and control and awareness of their environment.
- Overcome traumatic experiences
Therapists all over the world have used capoeira to deal with children suffering from post-traumatic syndrome and considered it to be a bodily knowledge that is indispensable in the struggle against socially repressive mechanisms.
- Empowerment through building leadership capacities
By involving participants in the special forms of social interaction during the capoeira classes, they obtain valuable life skills and leadership capacities in form of self-esteem, respect, tolerance and social understanding
- Improvement of school performance
The project aims at encouraging children to attend school and maintain a high performance level through discipline, communication, concentration, attention provided, and leadership roles.
- Improvement of physical wellbeing
The project aims at improving the physical wellbeing of its participants by involving them in different physical exercises bettering their motor skills, body consciousness and control. Moreover, children learn about their eating habits and how to acquire a healthy nutrition.
- Capoeira as sustainable source of income
Through this project, we aim to fully train our participants so that they can in turn train others and personally hold the capoeira workshops without the support of outside professionals, that way transferring ownership of the project and skills. Thus, the project provides a source of income to selected participants as it is the case presently in Cazuca, where former project participants from Ciudad Bolivar are now holding the classes.
Evaluations of previous project cycles have shown that participants have not only changed their violent behavior, but have found interest over time in learning both in the project and at school, and have been much more helpful at home with their families.
Most of the participants of previous project cycles were able to finish school and were prevented from recruitment, forced prostitution and criminal activities.
Additionally, as mentioned previously, the project was able to slowly create a social fabric that was inexistent in the area given that its population is mainly composed of IDPs and communication is very limited given the high level of fear and threats. We currently have 60-80 participants in our project and have reached out to 600 children and youth since the start of the project in 2009.
What is capoeira?
The methodology of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira includes physical activities in the form of body language, dance and ritualistic fighting, combined with musical activities in the form of playing and singing traditional African musical instruments and chants which are part of every capoeira class.
It evolved from the struggle of African slaves against their oppressors during the colonization of Brazil, and marginalized children and youth are attracted by it because they can connect to its history deep with warrior rituals from Africa. It is a celebration of life in the face of everyday struggle. It develops confidence, combined with a strong feeling of center and balance. Always central to the message of capoeira is unity, and bringing people together to keep continual flow regardless of the game and to find peace, joy and fulfilment in the game and in life.
Check the video of our award winning Playing for Freedom capoeire project...