Helping Jamaican children fight for a better future

Fight for Peace doesn’t teach children to fight. It uses combat sports as a way to channel their energies, to instill discipline and values; and help them escape the violence in their communities. To do so effectively – to do so safely – it’s vital that when a child enters the programme, they have a clear understanding what it is really about.

bali khuman fight for peace jamaica
UNICEF/JAM/Ross SheilBali Khuman, Fight for Peace Programme Trainer

Hundreds of children are involved in the Fight for Peace Safer Communities Programme. It’s guided by a team of coaches and volunteers spread across six Kingston communities and a network of partners like Rise Life Management. For the benefit of the children – it’s vital that they are all on the same team with a clear, common goal.

On a damp and drizzly day in downtown Kingston, there’s a heated discussion going on inside the Stanley Couch boxing gym. Fight for Peace Programme Trainer, Bali Khuman has gathered together coaches and coordinators from the programme to discuss workshop problems and solutions.

Top of the list: sometimes at-risk youths have very different expectations when they enter the programme. Sometimes they just want to learn how to fight.

“But because of them coming through our doors, because of the holistic support we have for those young people – then the personal development can start, the mentoring can start, the psycho-social team, the youth workers can have an impact in their lives,” says Bali.

“So, for whatever reason they come in, it’s vital that they have a clear induction. And because everything we do is through partners, they too need that clarity so they can help every single youth that comes through the programme.”

The coordinators at the workshop are keen to share their experiences, and frustrations, including the perspectives of children at the sessions. Children too demand structure.

Zann Locke Fight for Peace
UNICEF/JAM/Ross SheilZann Locke, Fight for Peace Coordinator

“One thing I have found is that kids seem to enjoy stricter coaches more because they need that structure in their lives – we all do even as adults! Many of these kids get to know and trust their coaches more than their parents because of that. At the end of the day, these kids need that sense of why they are here – which is to become a better person,” says Programme Coordinator, Mark Cole.

This can be a difficult journey for children raised with violence, whether in the home or their community. Seeing this first hand is why Zann Locke joined Fight for Peace, as Trench Town Community Coordinator. And Zann sees it again and again when children first enter the programme.

“I see two children fighting over a chair and then they get physical. I don’t think our children know because nobody is telling them. We don’t tell them that, yes, it’s okay to feel hurt but that there’s another way to resolve problems without violence. Their coping skills and decision-making skills are poor,” she says.

“I’ve seen a change because they are learning to accept who they are; they are learning that they have to co-exist among their own families and within a community; and they are learning different methods of solving issues as they arise.”

It’s hard work but the coordinators wouldn’t be doing it or wouldn’t be doing it as well if they weren’t passionate. Like 21-year-old taekwondo coach, Damany Gayle, who finds himself being a role model for inner city youths just a few years younger.

“It makes me feel like a leader, it makes me feel good. Sometimes I can’t explain the feeling to others, it’s such an overwhelming feeling. I don’t really know how to explain it or to put it into words,” says Damany.


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