World champ coaching for a cause

I coach at Fight for Peace teaching youths martial arts as a way to get them to exert some energy and aggression that might be pent up in them throughout the day.

Taekwondo is my passion and even though at 24 I have now been a world champion four times, my real passion is for coaching.

I lost my father to violence at age 5. So, for children I coach going through similar things, I put myself in their shoes.

Knowing what it’s like to be fatherless

I often have this really bad feeling for some of them, because they do not yet understand what is ahead of them. I know what is about to happen with the disadvantage they will be facing in the coming years without that father figure. It is kind of heartbreaking.

So I try to step in like a big brother and be a mentor to give them some guidance. Because I know what it is like to feel lost.

Sometimes though, I am not sure who is learning most from this, me or them! Because some of these children have so much life experience, more than many adults and that experience is mainly bad, unfortunately.

UNICEF/JAM/Ross SheilAkino preparing some of his students for a sparring session.

Youth in need of role models

When it happened to me, at five years old you are not aware of a lot and what is happening around you. To be honest, and this will sound strange to many people, but to me my father’s murder was like another murder in my community of Drewsland (in Kingston). It was so common that me that it was natural.

My community did not provide many role models so I had to find people along the way, and I give thanks to the teachers who guided me. Without them I would not be here today, doing what I can for other youths like me.

Despite all that happened I don’t see myself as a victim. I am ok with how my life turned out, my life isn’t the best but certainly not the worst.

Teaching discipline with martial arts

The martial arts I teach gives them discipline, because that is the main focus of martial arts. For me, this is what filled a gap in my life and also helped guide me to where I have reached today, and what I have achieved.

I would love to go to the Olympics but the training, competing and qualifying is expensive. So I am extra grateful for being made an Ambassador for the Michael Johnson Youth Leadership programme, which is giving me the guidance, resources and network to support my development as a coach and my own programme, Math Ninjas.

Math Ninjas is a combination of taekwondo and my other love, mathematics, where you use taekwondo as a way to engage kids who do not otherwise like to study. The idea is that they learn it almost incognito, like a ninja!

I hope I am making a contribution to ending violence for children in Jamaica. I see the kids looking better and being more focused. I love the kids I teach. The happiness I see in them now is what keeps me coming back. I see them as family now.

Fulfilling children’s rights is at the heart of what we do at UNICEF. This year, as we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, we feature a special ’30 under 30’ series, highlighting amazing Jamaican children and youth like Akino who are using their skills and talents to help protect and realise the rights of other young citizens. The focus of the series is on efforts to protect children from violence.

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