At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

In Syria, ‘capoeira’ helps Palestinian-Iraqi children heal psycho-social wounds

© UNICEF Syria/2009
Palestinian children from Iraq learn ‘capoeira’ – an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music and dance – at al-Tanf refugee camp in Syria.

By Magda Qandil

AL-TANF CAMP, Syrian Arab Republic, 2 October 2009 – In al-Tanf, a refugee camp set up in the no-man's-land near the Syrian-Iraqi border, Palestinian children who have fled the conflict in Iraq participate in various activities designed to help them heal their psycho-social wounds.

“Once we brought interactive theatre, another time clowns, and lately ‘capoeira’, which turned out to be the most effective activity,” says psycho-social consultant Patrizia Giffoni, who has spent the last year and a half working at al-Tanf.

The UNICEF-supported team in the camp also includes Project Coordinator Mohammed Nayef and a group of 20 youth volunteers recruited from the refugee population.

An emotional outlet

Capoeira is a combination of martial arts, music and dance. The capoeira activities at al-Tanf are being delivered by CapoeirArab, a Syrian association that has trained approximately 2,500 children and young people, many of them from difficult social environments.

“It is a ritualized fight. There is no physical contact, other than eye contact,” explains Ms. Giffoni. “There are elements in it symbolizing attack and defense, so it allows the children to express anger and frustration in a safe and healthy way.”

She adds that capoeira music, rhythm and group singing help to stabilize emotions and harmonize social relationships.

Capoeira training has been of great value to the al-Tanf population. The sessions are attended not only by the children and youths, but also by their parents and grandparents, who come to play music, clap and sing.

Delivering services

The capoeira activities have also been invaluable in helping the camp’s population stay positive despite the occurrence of several fires, which have destroyed possessions, caused injuries and even claimed lives. Ms. Giffoni notes that the fires are a painful reminder of what the refugees have already lost.

According to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Programme Officer for Palestinian-Iraqi Refugees Christian Boysen, al-Tanf now has some fire-fighting equipment, such as fire blankets, gloves, small extinguishers and alarm bells. However, the camp is still in urgent need of water tanks with pumps and hoses, which are vital for extinguishing fires.

Al-Tanf is under the responsibility of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but other UN agencies are delivering services for the population.

UNRWA runs the only school in the camp and provides health services, while UNICEF-funded projects, implemented by Terre des Hommes Italy, part of the Terre des Hommes International Federation, provide psycho-social support for the children and young people.



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