You are here

Capoeira: A surprising source of social transformation


Capoeira: A surprising source of social transformation

Dr. Kathryn Kraft of the University of East London introduces the initial findings of her research team's coming paper on the use of capoeira as a sport and development initiative with young Syrian refugees, in the al-Azraq Camp in Jordan.

We are excited to be launching the findings of our research about the psycho-social impact of capoeira in the lives of refugee youth at an event in London on 9 September 2015. For the past two years, I have been working in partnership with Capoeira4Refugees to identify the ways in which capoeira can have an impact in the lives of refugees and conflict-affected children. We have found that capoeira classes have helped children build social skills, personal confidence and discipline, and express their creativity, among other things. One of my visits to Capoeira4Refugees' project at al-Azraq Camp in Jordan, in particular, illustrated this.

Lugging a big wooden drum, about a dozen tambourines, and an assortment of other percussion instruments, we walked onto the big green astroturf. Some members of our team got to work assembling berimbaus, the staple instrument of a Brazilian dance/music/sport called capoeira. Others began assembling several dozen young Syrian boys into a big circle. This was the beginning of a series of intensive capoeira classes for Syrian youth living in the camp.

Al-Azraq camp is astonishingly monochrome: little white pre-fabricated houses lined up neatly against a backdrop of beige sand, for as far as the eye can see. The youth centre, with its bright green astroturf, created quite the contrast. It is easy to imagine how eagerly young people living in the camp flock to the centre, simply to enjoy a few hours of colour. I asked some of the youth what they do when not at capoeira class, and their answers included helping their mothers get food and water, studying to catch up on the years of school they lost due to war in Syria, and little else.

But, while the initial appeal of the capoeira classes might have been the fact that they offered something new and different in an otherwise dreary time spent within the camp, I was particularly impressed by how they helped these young people grow in confidence and respect.

Capoeira is interactive in nature, creating a space for its participants to act out their social frustrations inside the roda, or circle. It is physically challenging, requiring a great degree of discipline. It is empowering, in that its students are often expected to start teaching others once they have reached even a limited level of competence. It has a rich history of resistance in Brazil, which can inspire its students to address social problems in a productive way. It is expressive, as students learn a variety of songs and eventually learn to improvise as they play and sing.

Today’s Syrian refugee teenagers are, after all, the next generation of adults in Syria, and organisations like Capoeira4Refugees are working hard to ensure that they are not a lost generation.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


Article type



Dr. Kathryn Kraft


Monday, July 27, 2015 - 23:00