“Capoeira has the great mission of reconciling humanity with its own humanity.”
With the berimbau in his hand, Master Saudade comes out in defense of this martial art of Afro-Brazilian origin and its potential to promote peace in areas conflagrated by violence, as in the eastern DR Congo.
“The world is my garden, my berimbau accompanies me wherever I go. Iê, Capoeira!”
At age 40, Flávio Alex de Mesquita Soares is known as Master Saudade, a figure that is beloved and respected by the children in the capital of Goma, to where he moved in August 2015 to conduct the initiative Capoeira for Peace and assist in the training of Congolese Capoeiristas (instructors) working with children in guidance centers and hospitals.
“We carry out recreational activities that work with psychomotricity and try to deal with the problem of infantile-juvenile violence through a simple language. From a past when it was frowned upon and banned in Brazil, the use of Capoeira by a UN agency nowadays represents a very big step”, admits Saudade.
Born in the city of São Gonçalo, in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, Saudade grew up in a popular community in the Antonina neighborhood. When he lost his father, he abandoned his studies when he was still an adolescent.
His childhood was mixed with scenes of conflict and violence. “We used to hear shootings and knew that someone had died. My uncle was murdered, I had dead friends and others who entered the drug trade”, he laments.
And that was how he, at age 13, got to know Capoeira by means of a relative. At that moment, it was a self-defense fight. As a teenager, Saudade met his Capoeira master in a social project, the one that would teach him the values and discipline to practice this art.
“Capoeira arrived in my life at a moment of great emptiness. I was welcomed and became my sign of life. Capoeira never left me despite the difficult moments”, he said.
Little by little, Saudade developed a specific didactics to use Capoeira for peaceful and pedagogical purposes. His experience began with children in the favelas of Rio.
In 2008, he accepted the invitation of the Brazilian NGO Viva Rio to go to Haiti to implement this methodology in the project Gingando pela Paz with adolescents of rival gangs in the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince. The project nowadays has become an organization of its own.
“The work with gang boys in Haiti was a baptism for me. It was there where I discovered the strength of Capoeira and then I could see how it is used in practice, in a social way. We nailed it when we opened classes for former child soldiers and children of the community.”
After nearly a decade working in Haiti, Capoeira arrived in DR Congo to help promote peace.
The challenge was to try to recover children who had integrated the dozens of armed groups operating in the province of North Kivu.
“We created the methodology poison against poison. What these children have the most since they were born is problem. We take the problem to the core of the circle, which is the symbol of Capoeira. In the circle, everyone is equal and we seek solutions. We use what the child has in his daily life to educate him”, he explains.
Then, Saudade and his two Congolese co-workers, the Capoeiristas Ninja and Karibu, work every day to convey values of respect, unity, responsibility, and autonomy.