Islington formed Capoeira charity helping Palestinian refugees

Young Palestinian refugees living in a war zone face threats of aggression every day, destroying their confidence in the future.

But a charity, co-founded by an Islington woman, is trying to restore their dreams through a unique martial arts form.

Since Ummul Choudhury created Bidna Capoeira in 2010 it has taught the martial art to more than 1,000 children living in Jerusalem refugee camps.

Capoeira combines art and sport and originated in 16th-century Brazil.

Ummul said: “Brazilian slaves created this to combat oppression and keep their hopes alive. This is Capoeira’s essence and it is relevant in our work today.”

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Ummul says she has faced repeated challenges just trying to get into the Israeli-controlled Palestine zone as a result of her Asian heritage, saying: “It is very difficult at checkpoints.”

She says children aged nine stabbed each other with needles at one site, while other teenagers threw rocks at youngsters doing Capoeira.

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“The children face constant conflict,” Ummul says.

“The infrastructure in the camps is terrible, with massive overcrowding.

“They worry that soldiers will take their dads away. We create a safe place where they learn expression and co-operation and have fun.”

Ummul attended Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Donegal Street, Islington, and then City and Islington College in Holloway Road, Holloway. She built a career staging large business conferences in the Middle East.

In Syria, Ummul came across a Capeira school set up by German citizen Traek Alsaleh and was inspired to turn it into a fully fledged operation.

She has won more than �100,000 in funding from the United Nations and the Brazilian Embassy and been shortlisted for an Asian Woman of Achievement Award.

“I never imagined becoming involved in something like this and it was a mixture of circumstance and luck,” says Ummul.

“But I passionately believe that Capoeira can change lives.”

Bidna Capoeira is staging an event on World Refugee Day, June 20, at Islington Metal Works in Torrens Street, featuring music, film and Capeoira displays.

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