By Nerea Gonzalez
Johannesburg, Mar 10 (efe-epa).- Cele Mpani is among 250 South African youngsters training at Fight with Insight, a project that has teachers boxing to help keep kids and potential offenders off the streets of Johannesburg.
“If I were not here, I would be dead,” the 18-year-old Mpani said.
“Being a man is about having responsibilities. That is the meaning of life and one of the things I learned here.”
The nonprofit initiative started with a dozen youngsters referred by the courts for the correction program after committing an offense.
The program is currently open to everyone, with participants aging between 6 and 25.
Some of them are with disabilities or mental health problems.
“It is a safe place, a happy place. It inspires me to train hard and not to do bad things outside like smoking or stealing,” Joseph Kola told EFE before attending a boxing session in a small room that has a mural of Nelson Mandela boxing on its walls.
“It helps me a lot because I can control my feelings.”
What started with curiosity for Kola and most of his teammates became an opportunity for them to improve their self-esteem and see absent parents in their coaches.
The boxing academy is at the Children’s Memorial Institute, a former hospital founded by mothers whose children died in World War I.
Today, it is in one of Johannesburg’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the Inner City of Hillbrow.
“Everybody needs a place to belong. If you think of the rough streets of Hillbrow, if you are a young boy and need a place to belong, there are very few. So that sense of belonging is often found in things like gangs, drinking, crime, drugs,” Fight with Insight co-founder Luke Lamprecht told EFE.
Boxing offers a way to deal with traumas in a place where going out is dangerous, and meals are not guaranteed.
It also helps cultivate a tough-guy image, which, unfortunately, many young people will need to survive.
“They seem like a band of tough guys, but they really have kind and wonderful souls,” Lamprecht said.
Fight with Insight is not exclusive for boys.
Girls are also getting involved in the sport as the project had 90 participants now.
“I joined at the recommendation of my psychologist, because I was diagnosed with clinical depression as a child. Then I fell in love and achieved things that I never thought I would,” young boxer Jennifer Mchibi told EFE.
The organization offers food to those who train and teaches them to eat healthy and abandon processed products that would dominate their diet.