Source: Praticando Capoeira ano 01, n.05
Translated into English by Shayna McHugh
Wagner Assis Fonseca Ruas, known as Contra-Mestre Aberrê, has practiced capoeira for over 20 years and is a member of Grupo Capoeira Gerais, of Mestre Mão Branca. In 1998, Aberrê began the Projeto Meninos de Pé no Chão (Project Children with Feet on the Ground) in São Paulo, which aims to use capoeira in the integration of street children into society, giving them the opportunity to gain recognition and social prestige.
To carry out this work, Aberrê has a partnership with Projeto Vida (Project Life – sponsored by the local government of São Paulo) and the Projeto Aprendendo a Viver (Project Learning to Live). Project Life consists of houses that are open 24 hours for children who have nowhere to spend the night, or who find themselves far from home. Project Learning to Live serves the children during the day, offering educational courses.
In the Projeto Meninos de Pé no Chão, the capoeira classes are both practical and theoretical, always emphasizing the playful side of capoeira, including elements that are fundamental for education and for the development of the kids’ physical, mental, and moral abilities.
How did your work with street children begin?
The work began with Carlinhos, Diogo, and Gilmar, who we met on Oscar Freire Street in São Paulo. We always passed by there to do a roda on Paulista Avenue, and they would play with us. So one day we invited them to train. These boys were part of Project Learning to Live, and they told Maria and Oswaldo (the project leaders) that they were training capoeira. Maria and Oswaldo came to check out our work and asked if there would be space for more children. This was how the social work began, with the help of Instructor Caca. Today we have around 40 kids, but the turnover is substantial – they come and go. We have about 15 steady students.
What is the biggest difficulty in your work?
The biggest challenge is that we don’t have any support, so we can’t offer more to the kids. They come train capoeira, but if there’s no food at home, then they have to go beg instead of coming to train. We would like to give them, for example, a basket of basic foodstuffs twice a month, and enable them to come here for six hours each day.
What benefits does capoeira offer these kids?
The biggest one is health, because on the streets the kids use drugs like cocaine. A child who uses cocaine and smokes marijuana is not in good health. In capoeira class, we talk about how these drugs damage one’s health, and little by little they stop using. Capoeira helps develop motor skills and self-confidence, and it also helps on the cultural side as well as with social integration. Through capoeira, the kids have contact with people of different social classes, and we show them that there is no difference between them. In the capoeira roda everyone is equal; everyone wears the same uniform. You don’t know who’s an expert or who’s a beginner.
What changes have you seen in the kids’ behavior after they practice capoeira?
They see capoeira as a profession, as an escape, as a shelter from drugs, from the street. According to Maria, who has more contact with the children, they attend more classes and become more interested in their studies and less interested in drugs… they understand that to be a capoeirista, you have to study and work hard.
Sometimes people think that capoeira makes you more aggressive. On the contrary, the kids expend so much energy here that they don’t have any left to fight in the street. Their communication skills improve because they have less of an inferiority complex; they feel equal to and closer to other kids.
How can capoeira help other kids who are poor or living on the streets?
Capoeiristas are doing everything to continue this social work, but the lack of support and resources means we can’t do more. Capoeira gives these individuals the opportunity to gain respect and social recognition.
What is lacking is that the government of our country doesn’t see capoeira as a way to help street kids. I myself and the other mestres can’t do much alone. We can touch the lives of a few kids, but if we had support from the government we could help thousands of children.
Remarks from some of the students:
- “I really like Aberrê’s capoeira. He has helped me a lot. He’s tough on us, but it’s because he likes us, and he tells us things for our own good.” – Carlinhos
- I like everything in capoeira… playing, singing, playing instruments.” – Denise
- “When we are in capoeira class, we forget about our problems outside.” – Diogo
- “Capoeira has really helped in my life.” – Spok
- “Everyone is friends here.” – Ratinho
- “Aberrê is like a father to us.” – Rodrigo Bocao
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