“With Capoeira, I free my mind, I escape from reality.”
Every time she practices Capoeira, Mwamini, aged 15, softens the aches and pains of her everyday life. “It makes me forget about my poverty. We have little to eat at home. When I play, it makes me forget about this suffering.”
In Swahili, Mwamini means ‘the one who believes’.
At least three times a week, the teenager has a scheduled appointment at the Heal Africa hospital in downtown Goma. These are the moments she most longs for, when the Master and the instructors meet the boys and girls in the great hall provided by the hospital for the great communal meeting.
Heal Africa has become a reference hospital in North Kivu for the treatment of patients who have suffered sexual- and gender-based violence in a country where rape and mistreatment of women as weapons of war are rampant.
The hospital has also become the communal meeting center and a pole that attracts several activities to the surrounding neighborhood.
Mwamini lives in a small and precarious shack of beaten earth and rotting wooden planks with canvas cover. Together with her parents, she and her seven brothers have lived in this hovel for twelve years now, located in the Quartier des Volcans, near downtown Goma.
This neighborhood is surrounded by mansions where international staff and expatriates who work in humanitarian-aid organizations live. Side by side, small slums and huts like Mwamini’s are built in a rocky remnant of the last eruption of the Nyiaragongo volcano that advanced over the city in 2002.
The floor of Mwamini’s house is made of parched lava.
A five-minute walk is what she takes from her house to the hospital lounge where she attends the Capoeira classes. She is one of the most assiduous and dedicated students.
Mwamini does not go to school anymore. At age 9, she had to drop out on the third grade. Her mother could no longer pay the school fees of her eight children. In DR Congo, education is not free and costs about US$300 a year to keep a child in the classroom.
Shy and introverted, Mwamini has few friends and spends most of her day wandering the streets and helping her mother sell bananas, one of the only ways to generate family income.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the special days when the young woman practices her favorite sport, Capoeira.
On the first time, she just cast curious glances to know what it was about those girls dancing and singing in a circle. On the second time, “I fell in love and decided to start doing it”, she says.
She invited one of her younger siblings and today they both practice Capoeira together.
It has been two years since Mwamini first saw this martial art that combines dance, music, acrobatics, and non-violent movements.
For her mother, Sarah Wakibenga, 43, Capoeira changed not only the family routine but also the personality of her children. She noticed the difference since the beginning.
“The kids spend almost the whole day on the streets. When we have food, we eat. When we don’t, we wait until the next day to try to get some food.”
Sarah saw this activity as a form of pastime and education of her children.
“I am very happy to know that they can practice an activity. I have always wanted them to practice sports, but we never had the money to pay for them. Capoeira is a sport, dance, everything together, and it’s free.”
Mwamini shows commitment. Among her desires, she wants to restart her studies and become a Capoeira teacher, to teach other children.
“I and other girls hope to be able to teach Capoeira someday.”