MANILA— Sixteen-year-old Kenneth Liantada used to run and participate in riots in the streets of Manila.
That was four years ago. Along with other children from the slums of San Andres, he now teaches Capoeira— an Afro-Brazilian art form that mixes dance, fight, game and musicality— to children under government's care and young refugees in Australia through Project Bantu Philippines.
"Dati po kasi dyan-dyan lang po kami sa kalsada, tambay tapos nakikipag-riot pa po kami nun tapos kung ano-anong ginagawa namin kabulastugan. Nung napasok kami sa Capoeira, di po pwede 'yung ginagawa namin sa labas, kailangan baguhin talaga namin," he told ABS-CBN News.
(Before, we just hung out on the streets, we even participated in riots and did all kinds of mischief. But when we entered Capoeira, we couldn't do what we did outdoors, we needed to change our behavior.)
The art form teaches children to be disciplined, diligent, and patient, he said.
"Sa oras ng klase naka-uniform tapos on-time ka. 'Pag ang klase niyo alas-7, kailangan nandun ka na 6:30 para nakapaghanda ka na," Liantada said.
(During class you need to wear a uniform and you need to be on-time. If your class is at 7, you should already be there at 6:30 to prepare.)
"Dati super kulit ko po halos di po ako umaawat (Before, I was very naughty, I couldn't be disciplined)," said 20-year-old Rodolfo Soliven, who began learning Capoeira 8 years ago.
Project Bantu Philippines is a socio-behavioral intervention program that aims to develop leadership skills among children at risk to give them equal footing in life, according to its director Jaime Benedicto.
"Para siyang martial arts pero walang tamaan. Kailangan may control ka of your body, of your mind, 'yung emotions mo. When you play instruments together kailangan nakikinig kayo sa isa’t isa, may communication," he said.
(It's like martial arts but you don't hit each other. You need to have control of your body, mind, and emotions. When you play instruments together, you need to listen to each other so you can communicate.)
Video courtesy of Project Bantu Philippines
Changing social conditions of children at risk
Project Bantu Philippines began in 2012 after Benedicto met Mestre (master) Roxinho. The Capoeira master had initiated the program in Brazil for socially and economically disadvantaged children there, according to Benedicto.
The first beneficiaries of Project Bantu Philippines were children who frequented Makati's red-light area, he said. They later on worked with children from the San Andres Bukid district in Manila, he added.
"What we've come to realize po, in supporting po 'yung mga bata, hindi sufficient 'yung use ng Capoeira to build behaviors nila unless mabago rin natin ang social conditions nila," he said.
(What we've come to realize in supporting the kids, it's not sufficient to use Capoeira to build behaviors unless we also change their social conditions.)
"'Pag hindi natin nabago ang environment nila, 'yung lack of opportunities nila to do good, para masuportahan ang pagaaral nila, mabigyan sila ng trabaho kung saan kikita sila ng decent na wage babalik tayo sa problems ng crime, drugs kasi no choice po sila kung gusto nila kumita," he added.
(If we don't change their environment, their lack of opportunities to do good, to support their studies, give them work which will give them decent wage, we'll go back to problems of crime, drugs because they have no choice if they want to earn.)
'Malayo pa ang mararating'
The students have now become the teachers as they hold online Capoeira classes to children in centers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Afghani and Iraqi refugees in Australia, according to Benedicto.
"Nandito po ako to supervise them pero sila po ang nagpapatakbo ng klase," he said.
(I'm here to supervise them but they run the class.)
"We're trying to give 'yung skillset para makapagtrabaho na sila after nito, either with us as educator ng Capoeira or sa ibang industries.)
The project is working with other non-government organizations, international groups, and private firms to get employment and support for the children, Benedicto said.
For Liantada, who has worked as a pedicab driver and water delivery boy among others, there is no limit to his dreams of becoming a teacher, a boxer, and a basketball player.
Meantime, his friends Melbert de Belen, 19, and Mark Angel Berdote, 17, want to pursue architecture and aviation, respectively.
"Nakikita ko na po na malayo pa po ang mararating namin. Sa mga kasunod po namin na mga bata, 'yung mga palaboy-laboy din po, ganun din po ang ituturo namin sa kanila kung ano ang tinuro sa'min dito, mga magagandang asal po tsaka pagiging responsable po," Liantada said.
(I can see that we will still go far in life. To the next children who will learn Capoeira, those who also roam the streets, we'll teach them what was taught to us, such as good manners and being responsible.)
"'Wag lang po sumuko sa mga tinututuro sa'min kahit mahirap," De Belen said.
(We'll teach them not to give up even though it's difficult.)