In a renovated building in a South African township about 20 children in judogi and others in school uniforms tumble around on a tatami under the watchful eye of a coach.
They are from a nearby primary school in Alexandra township and regularly gather for judo classes.
The project aims to “use judo as a vehicle for ... refugees, migrants [and] South Africans to meet together,” Judo for Peace coordinator Roberto Orlando said.
It is a “platform to be all equal, to learn together, and to develop skills and values all together,” he said.
Alexandra, north of the Johannesburg inner city, is one of the poorest, most densely populated black townships in South Africa.
Fourteen years after 60 people, mostly migrant workers from other African countries, were killed in an outbreak of attacks, xenophobia has not left the township. Migrants — especially from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe — have borne the brunt of the hostility.
Orlando decided that now, more than ever, was the best time to have a dojo in the township — it officially opened its doors last month.
At the heart of his teaching are the principles of self-control, discipline, respect, honor, courage and friendship.
One of the coaches is Rudolph Ngala from the DR Congo.
Having a migrant coach is strategic because “people can get used to seeing refugees as someone who brings skills to the country,” Orlando said.
Ngala, 21, arrived in South Africa from Kinshasa in 2017 and immediately took up judo with Orlando.
Cracking jokes with two South Africans after competing at an event on Monday for World Refugee Day, Denzel Shumba, 17, who moved to South Africa with his family 10 years ago from Zimbabwe, also took up judo.
“South Africa is a bit of a showcase of what is happening in the world. We are all mixing up. More and more we need to learn from each other, to learn to live together,” Shumba said.
Orlando, athletic and with piercing blue eyes, originally came from Italy, but has worked in Ethiopia, Somalia, the DR Congo and now South Africa, setting up judo dojos to empower the youth and integrate people in disadvantaged communities.
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