"This year's WKC World Karate Championship was all about karate, but it was also about so much more than karate. It was about choosing to be positive in the face of tough challenges and how helping each other makes everyone feel better. I was in Orlando, Florida competing with Team Canada at the WKC Worlds. I am a second-degree black belt, and this was my fourth time competing at the Worlds for my country. I was also there to try and raise some money and spread awareness about the situation of the forced begging talibé street kids in Saint Louis, Senegal and how karate is changing their lives for the better.
A few years ago, when I was 13 years old, I visited Africa for the first time to volunteer at Maison de la Gare with my family. I wanted to help, to have something to offer the kids I would be meeting in Senegal. At home in Canada, I train and help teach karate. I thought, what better than to share what I love and what I am good at? I had to convince my family and Maison de la Gare that starting to teach karate to the talibé kids would be a good idea. They had enough imagination to decide to give it a chance.
So I got busy and gathered over 75 donated karate uniforms (gi's) from families and dojos in my home town, packed them up, and took them to Senegal. Once at Maison de la Gare, I just started doing karate and the kids were naturally interested. By the end of the first week, all the uniforms we brought were being worn in my overflowing daily classes by kids who wanted to learn karate. Imagine as a forced-begging, barefoot street kid how good it must feel being able to wear a clean white gi, and to be the centre of attention while you learn to take control in your life! Karate was such a success at Maison de la Gare that we decided to hire a local sensei to carry on giving classes after I had returned to Canada.
I have now been to Senegal three times to work with the boys of Maison de la Gare, register kids who show talent and dedication into an advanced program at the local dojo, train with them at the dojo, and coach my students to grade for higher belts. I am so proud of how far they have come, and of the dedication and passion many of them show for the sport we all love. I am looking forward to my next trip to Senegal to see my karate kids and to work with them again.
Now, at the World Championships, I decided to spread the word beyond my home city, to let people know how karate is so important for the kids at Maison de la Gare. I showed a video of the kids training in Africa, outside, under the sun in 40 degree temperatures, never complaining. In the pictures I showed, the karate kids were happy and determined, and looked like they were giving karate everything they had. All of us who were competing at the Worlds also give karate everything we have. But, we are never alone in pursuing our dreams. Our parents and our senseis support us constantly. Parents drive us to hundreds of training practices and dozens of tournaments each year. They cheer us up and convince us to carry on when we are in pain and feel like we have had enough. They do our stinky laundry and pay our coaching fees. They cheer for us at our grading ceremonies, congratulate us when we win, and console us when we do not. And our coaches help us push hard, dig deep to find our best selves, share in our glory and support us in our pain and losses.
The talibé karate kids have none of this support. They show up to karate classes after 6 to 10 hours of forced begging, having had very little to eat. No parents or coaches encourage them to persevere. They scrub their own gi's by hand and hang them to dry at Maison de la Gare. They feel the same pain and disappointments my teammates and I do, but have only themselves to look to for motivation and determination. When they achieve higher belts and win at tournaments, parents are never cheering from the sidelines.
And yet, they are as passionate about karate and as dedicated as I am. We can learn so much from these amazing kids. I certainly have. The Maison de la Gare karate kids have taught me that, no matter how tough life's challenges become, it is always possible to take back some control and choose to be happy. And, there is always room for doing what you love.
Sometimes we can help make a difference for other people who face challenges outside their control, and sometimes we can fight for a little more control in our own lives. And, when things happen outside our control, how we choose to react is always within our control - we can choose to be happy. We can do what we love."
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