Anna Versfeld and Marcio Lopez

“We teach these children out of a love for our sport and to promote self-love and respect for others. We never expected to get this kind of recognition.” Capetonians Anna Versfeld from Walmer Estate and Marcio Lopez from Observatory received the 2009 Inyathelo Award for Youth in Philanthropy.

This  young and energetic pair are making a difference to Cape Town Metropolitan’s youth’s lives through a Non Profit organisation (NPO) called Capoeira Educational Youth Association (CEYA). They teach physical and social skills throughBrazilian dance-art, Capoeira, to young people in four disadvantaged areas: Langa, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg and Delft.

Their hard work and commitment to the 120 young people in their programme have earned them a nomination  for the 2009 Inyathelo Youth in Philanthropy Award. These awards recognise those whose personal contributions have made a sustainable contribution to communities in South Africa. 

CEYA’s community classes have been running for the past two years. The results have been phenomenal and have exceeded Marcio and Anna’s expectations.

Capoeira is a dance-martial art with its roots in the Afro-Brazilian slave culture. Through the years it has developed into a smooth, acrobatic, stylised and interactive “game” of attack and avoidance. Students of the art form require balance, agility, rhythm and extreme control. 

Marcio is an IT graduate who taught Capoeira as a hobby to students at the University of Cape Town throughout his studies. He decided to teach Capoeira on a full-time basis once he graduated, due to the increased demand from lovers of the sport. Marcio was the first person to start regular Capoeira classes in Cape Town and is today a recognised teacher in ABADÁ- Capoeira. He is the co-founder of CEYA and  the current Director.

“Every year I go to Brazil to brush up on my skills and to ensure that I have the latest moves to teach my students,” says Marcio. “It is a truly beautiful sport to watch and we all train for many hours.” 

Marcio and Anna have extended the benefits of Capoeira to include conflict resolution. Many of the areas in which they work have a strong gangster presence. Anna, who is a co-founder and programme manager of CEYA, has an Honours degree in Social Anthropology specialising in children’s rights.

The couple say that within the first month of working with the youth, they can see an improvement in attitudes. The young people become more disciplined, fight less, and are willing to face the challenges put to them by the sport. Where they have been in poor physical shape, overweight, agitated and battled to concentrate, they now start to lose weight, feel good about themselves and communicate better.

 A marked improvement in school marks, concentration levels and self-confidence are just some of the improvements. One of the unexpected outcomes of the programme has been the young people’s increased sense of belonging  and their identification of Anna and Marcio as role models in a world of drugs, vice and instability. 

Counselling has become an essential part of the process and before starting a lesson, children are encouraged to share their thoughts, fears and anger through games.  It is also one of the only places that children whose families come from competing gangs come together without threat of violence. Young people are brought together on a monthly basis to interact and to ‘play’, thus encouraging interaction and engagement with groups with whom they would not normally interact. The youngsters are also invited to monthly classes at the Observatory Community Centre where all Capoeiristas from Cape Town ‘play’ together. 

Young people from disadvantaged areas attend the classes for free, with funds raised through private classes. But CEYA needs support to extend its programme into more areas.  Apart from monetary support, of which both Anna and Marcio have donated much of their own to the project, dedicated and trained teachers are urgently needed.