Jugando por la Libertad, meaning Playing for Freedom, is  a capoeira program that aims to increase social inclusion of children and youth affected by extreme violence, poverty and forced displacement in Colombia, by strengthening community bonds, teaching life values and social skills, and providing opportunities for personal development.

Capoeira is a dynamic combination of martial arts, song, and dance from Brazil evolving from the struggle of enslaved Africans against their oppressors. It was born as their fight for freedom and social justice, a celebration of life in the face of everyday struggle. The roda, the circle of people within which capoeira is played, brings together capoeiristas regardless of their origins, age, gender, faith, income or educational levels.

The program includes capoeira classes three times a week in Ciudad Bolívar, a shantytown of Bogotá, as well as participation in rodas and other presentations in different parts of the city. Thus we give our youth an opportunity to get to know different places in their city, meet new people and gain confidence as capoeiristas and as individuals. Due to their poor background these children can rarely afford to go out of their communities and take part in leisure or cultural events in other parts of Bogotá, so we seek to use every opportunity to take the group to different events.

The most important event during the year for each capoeira group is the so-called batizado (literally “baptism”, or graduation ceremony) where all members gather for a few days to play together, take part in different workshops with skillful masters, and most importantly get acknowledgement of their achievements in capoeira. During the batizado the new capoeiristas present themselves to the master and the bigger group, and get a special belt as a sign of acceptance. In turn those who already have some experience can show their development and gain a higher degree represented by a belt in a different colour. Furthermore, for the participants in the Playing for Freedom project this is a particularly special event where they receive recognition for their efforts and dedication, something they do not always see in the family and school environment.

In 2015 the batizado of the Capoeira Nativos group, which our project is part of, will take place in Villavicencio, capital of the Meta department, from October 30 to November 2. In order to give our youth the opportunity to take part in this unique event and to continue funding the program throughout the year we need to raise at least USD 5,000. For this purpose we are launching a number of fundraising campaigns, including various events in the US, UK, Colombia and Hong Kong.

As we will not be able to send all Playing for Freedom participants to the batizado event this year, we have arranged a separate event to be held in Ciudad Bolívar on October 25, when the mestre will visit the project and will make a special batizado with those who could not travel. The received donations will be used to cover the participation costs of 15 participants in the event in Villavicencio (travel, food and accommodation), as well as all costs related to the event in Ciudad Bolívar (transport of the guests and refreshments for all participants). The rest of the funds will also be used for new uniforms for all participants in Playing for Freedom, belts and diplomas, as well as for the operational running of the program throughout the year.

With a donation of just USD 15 you can give a brand new capoeira uniform to one of our children (T-shirt, pants and belt). And if you make a donation of USD 50 or more you will get a special T-shirt with the logo of the project and a thank you note from our youth. Just make sure to e-mail us at theodora@nukantifoundation.org with your name and the date when the donation was made.

How did it all start?

The project was born in 2007 when Cristhian Casallas along with other fellow capoeiristas decided to work with displaced children in Ciudad Bolívar and Cazucá, two war-torn zones on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia. Cristhian, who himself comes from Ciudad Bolívar, discovered capoeira after witnessing a roda with Brazilian masters in Bogotá. Fascinated by this unique martial art but unable to access it given their poor background, Cristhian and his friends attempted to learn capoeira through videos and any illustrations they could find at the public library. During their next experience of a roda, a Brazilian master invited them to participate and was highly impressed by their skills and knowledge of capoeira, especially given that they had learned it on their own. He decided to grant them scholarships to train with the group and turn them into professional capoeiristas.

Having had this unique opportunity that completely transformed his life and provided him with a positive outlook toward his future, Cristhian decided to give back to the youth in his community through capoeira. His encounter with Niousha Roshani, founder of Nukanti and also a capoeirista, solidified the project and together they formed Playing for Freedom in 2010. With the support of Nukanti the project expanded to the Altos de Pino neighbourhood in Cazucá, where several years ago we built the first community centre which hosts not only the capoeira classes but also many other activities for children, youth and adults. Over the years more than 300,000 children have taken part in the program, and some of them have become co-instructors.

Thanks to its huge social impact and sustainability over the years Playing for Freedom won the highly prestigious Beyond Sport Award for Sport for Conflict Resolution 2013.

You can see a short documentary about the program here: http://www.nukantifoundation.org/video/

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