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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Dubai Saturday Club makes the 'world better and happier'

The government initiative is teaching teenagers empathy and how to work together through the arts

A Capoeira workshop teaches teenagers to look out for each other. Victor Besa  /  The National
A Capoeira workshop teaches teenagers to look out for each other. Victor Besa / The National

A Dubai-based government initiative is helping children learn how to work together, to empathise with each other and how to look towards a more sustainable future through art classes.

Now in its third season, with sessions running from last month up until March, The Dubai Saturday Club brings teenagers from across Dubai’s schools together with social entrepreneurs for educational programmes that aim to “make the world better and happier”. It was launched by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and inspired by the UK’s National Art & Design Saturday Club.

In one recent session, which ran for the second time after a successful event last year, three Capoeiristas and a ‘time banking’ expert held a workshop for pupils teaching them to “be that somebody who makes a difference” and to spread a culture of sustainability and equality.

Capoeira is about the circle of trust. Victor Besa  /  The National
Capoeira is about the circle of trust. Victor Besa / The National

Through the art of Capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian, low-contact martial art that is part dance, part acrobatics, part fight – a group of children learned to form sustainable communities. The capoeira allowed the teens to communicate without words and instead through action, fostering team work and compassion between the participants.

The pupils played a game inspired by the history of the martial art, which is thought to have been developed by slaves in Brazil in the 16th century. One child took on the role of Zumbi, a Muslim Brazilian anti-slavery hero and prominent Capoeira figure. Zumbi then has to free the other participants, or slaves, from the Capitan by doing an Capoeira kick over their head.

“The art is a great way to communicate without using spoken language,” explained Hind Al Mualla, chief of Creativity, Happiness and Innovation at KHDA.

“It focuses on the positive and brings a higher level of empathy and compassion to participants towards each other and the work in general.”

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority began the Dubai Saturday Club to 'make the world better'. Victor Besa  /  The National
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority began the Dubai Saturday Club to 'make the world better'. Victor Besa / The National

Marwan Ghunaim, the founder of the workshop, explained how through art forms like Capoeira, one learns to combine the physical with lifestyle and passion.

“I first saw Capoeira on Jordanian TV in 1994,” he said. “I went down to the street to try to copy what I had seen, but it didn’t work, of course.

“It (Capoeira) did not exist in our culture. So later I did Taekwondo in the street because it was available.”

He finally found a Capoeira group after he moved to Dubai in 2010. He said: “My interest was the physical aspect, but after six months I learned about the community and the real meaning of Capoeira.”

He then started his own capoeira group in 2013. A year later, he went to Brazil and “got an even deeper understanding of Capoeira.”

“I was shocked, the physical aspect became ten per cent only,” he said. “Whatever struggle I faced in life, I started to think of it in a different light: how can I use it to facilitate my own life skills, instead of panicking.”

He came across the KHDA last year, and they started generating ideas “on how to inspire the kids on sustainability … We gave them Capoeira.”

A workshop for pupils teaching them to “be that somebody who makes a difference". Victor Besa  / The National
A workshop for pupils teaching them to “be that somebody who makes a difference". Victor Besa / The National

Classes like these are producing almost immediate changes in the way the children see the world. In a game of musical chairs during the same session, the children were asked if the popular activity, where a player has to lose after each round, was fair and represented equality.

“That is life,” the teens said.

Yet Julie Hutchinson, a Capoerista and co-organiser for the workshop, assured them: “We will show you that life doesn’t have to be about winning and losing.

“In [our version of the] game, there will be fewer chairs (cushions) in each round, but the amount of people will stay the same. The trick is to all be like Zumbi and take care of each other.”

Two teams, one of girls and one of boys, were then encouraged to be creative in figuring out how to rearrange themselves to fit on a decreasing number of cushions after each round. The boys chose to stand on the cushions, the girls sat, but both teams managed to fit until the last remaining cushion.

“We call this model team work, being a hero, being creative – it is sustainable,” explained Dana Dajani, a time banking expert.

The children got the message. They said they learnt cooperation, collaboration, “to use our brains so we can all fit in, adjusting to one another.”

Pupils from across Dubai played a game inspired by the history of Capoeira, which is thought to have been developed by slaves in Brazil. Victor Besa  /  The National
Pupils from across Dubai played a game inspired by the history of Capoeira, which is thought to have been developed by slaves in Brazil. Victor Besa / The National

Miss Dajani said: “This game represents what is happening to our resources and planet. We are a lot of people and our resources are getting smaller because we are not sustainable now. When we work together, we can use the resources to help everybody.”

Inspired by what they had learned, the teens next engaged in ‘time banking’ – offering an hour of their time for an hour of another’s time. Standing in a circle, the children traded things like swimming lessons, maths tutoring, throwing a wool string out into the group for whoever wanted to take the offer to catch.

Thirty minutes later, they were all intertwined in a complicated web of strings.

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