Young coach uniting inner-city youth with martial arts

When I volunteered for Fight for Peace, I thought I was just going to be coaching taekwondo. But now I see that with sports you can change young people, and you can change their families. You can even change a community.

Our Unity and Peace programme runs in six communities in Kingston, which can sometimes be in conflict with each other or internally for the wrong reasons. The youths we work with in the programme sometimes get caught up in violence, not because of any gang affiliation, but simply because of where they live and the mental stress that they are under.

Uniting youths from warring Kingston communities

Being only 21 years-old I’m close in age to many of them, which helps us relate. This is a big opportunity to help change the way they think about themselves and what’s possible for them in life. There’s a child in one of my sessions. He was really shy and didn’t speak a lot, but I saw the leader in him – even though he didn’t see it himself. I made him class leader and talked to him in and out of class until he got more comfortable with the position. Meet him now, and you’ll meet a boy full of confidence!

This is a new experience for me, to be looked up to like this. They come to me with their problems, whether trivial or complicated. And if they need more help then we have our psycho-social support team (psychologists and social workers) that can help them and their families. As a final year psychology student at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, this experience is also helping to mould me as a young man!

Teaching parents non-violent solutions

Sometimes I come into contact with their parents and when I do, I try to share with them about the experience their children are having with Fight for Peace. Many of these parents do not always have a positive relationship with their children. They often think that the best way to discipline their children is violence. But just as we teach children in our sessions, violence and anger are not solutions, and instead we provide those solutions.

When I get a chance to talk to parents I always talk about other ways to discipline a child that teaches them what is right – that violence and anger are definitely not it. Instead it can be using a ‘time out’ or temporarily taking away something a child likes. Normally I give them push-ups or planks, which is actually how I grew up learning taekwondo! If necessary, they must sit out a week, and so they learn from that – I can see the children learning how to treat each other with respect.

I’m excited to combine what I’m learning in psychology with what I’m learning from being a coach. What I teach the youths when I coach, I hope they will teach their kids one day. I hope that can make for a better Jamaica, because children will live what they learn.

 

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