At the sprawling Kiandutu slums located in central Kenya’s industrial town of Thika, the dawn of a new day is a nightmare for Mike Walker and his youthful peers amid deprivation that stalks them with unrelenting ferocity.
Born and bred in the informal settlements sandwiched between factories and empty fields for grazing cattle, Walker had close encounter with hardships at a tender age, which has made him appreciate grit and ingenuity.
He is a proud graduate of Young Dragons Academy, a charitable organization that teaches martial arts skills like Karate and Kungfu to children and youth from slums in Thika town, enhancing their resilience and self-defense.
“The training on Karate, Taekwondo and Kungfu that we have been receiving at the academy is quite gruelling but I have no regrets because it has boosted my self-esteem, mental and physical agility,” Walker during a recent interview. “Besides gaining life skills courtesy of martial arts, I feel confident to confront any threat like an attack by armed criminals which is common in the slums.”
Currently pursuing undergraduate studies at a local university, Walker said that joining the Young Dragons Academy at the age of five was a strategic decision that has yielded positive outcomes including frequent travels and exposure to life-changing opportunities.
With life skills acquired at the martial arts academy, Walker has escaped the snare of social ills like crime, drug and alcohol abuse that have taken a toll on slum youth.
The open grounds adjacent to Thika slums where children have been training for Karate, Kungfu and Taekwondo are currently a prized destination for parents keen to see the best outcomes from their offspring.
Elizabeth Rakwaro, the middle-aged founder of Young Dragons Academy, said her quest to transform lives of disadvantaged children and youth has won accolades from parents, teachers and elected leaders.
According to Rakwaro, the academy since its inception in 2008 has trained more than 500 youngsters from Thika slums a mixture of martial arts, basic discipline and survival skills.
“I was driven by a desire to rescue slum children and youth from the snares of crime by imparting in them life skills. Other than training them to be self-reliant, I have also trained these boys and girls how to defend themselves in case of physical attack,” said Rakwaro.
She said that girls in particular have gained immensely from martial arts amid ability to fend off potential sexual predators who often take advantage of their vulnerabilities.
Rakwaro said that currently, there are 54 children who use the open grounds to get training from midmorning until evening during weekends and public holidays when they are not in school.
“The aim of Young Dragons Academy is to improve martial arts prowess among slum children and youth, enhance their resilience in the face of economic hardships and social breakdown,” said Rakwaro, noting that children between the ages of 5 and 18 who have embraced martial arts with gusto have reported improved academic performance and life skills.
Rakwaro disclosed that her academy has produced Karate and Taekwondo teams that have participated in national, regional and global tournament, where their performances were impressive.
An underage female trainee, who preferred to be addressed using her first name Agnes, said enrolling at the martial arts club at the age of 15 early this year has been a transformative experience amid new life skills gained and new friendships forged.
“We are like a family bound together by pursuit of a shared interests and values. So I’m happy to be a member of the martial arts club and have been encouraging my friends to enrol since the benefits are immense,” said Agnes.
Her sentiments were shared by Peter Mwangi, a senior high school student who said that joining Young Dragons Academy at the age of 14 has nurtured in him the virtues of collective duty, courage, sacrifice and discipline.
“I can say authoritatively that all these genres of martial arts have been very rewarding to my academic and personal lives. Besides improving on my performance in class, I’m now able to relate better with my parents, teachers and age mates thanks to discipline that is a key virtue of Karate and Kungfu,” said Mwangi, now aged 17.
Susan Nyambura, a parent of a child at the Karate team, said she was proud of her offspring’s positive outlook, empathy, ability to build bridges of friendship and dedication to duty thanks to the teachings at the martial arts club. Enditem