Castlegar Taekwondo students kicked and punched through wooden boards on Saturday afternoon, raising money to help end slavery.
About 35 students from Kootenay Christian Taekwondo and Selkirk Taekwondo met at the Kinnaird Park Community Church to take part in Martial Arts for Justice’s Breaking Boards, Breaking Chains break-a-thon event to raise money for International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest anti-slavery organization.
This is the fourth year the break-a-thon has been held to raise money for IJM. The first year the event was held, it only included one Taekwondo school from Nelson.
“In 2013 I was doing a fundraising campaign with the youth group in Nelson to raise money for International Justice Mission, and I was talking to Dean [Siminoff] and he said, ‘You know I’ve always been looking for something for the Taekwondo school to get involved in.’ It really matched well because one of the tenants for Taekwondo is to be champions of freedom and justice,” explained Stacy DeVries, founding board member of Martial Arts for Justice.
Since then the event has grown to include schools across Canada, and two years ago Dean Siminoff founded Martial Arts for Justice as an organization to run the event.
“As Breaking Boards, Breaking Chains [grew], we saw the potential it had; we needed to put a formal entity around it,” explained Siminoff.
Siminoff and his wife recently visited Uganda and Rwanda, where they spent two weeks in each country and met with representatives of IJM. In Rwanda, they also started a sister Taekwondo school with 50 students. DeVries also came to Rwanda for two weeks, overlapping with Siminoff for three days, to help open the school.
“We put a teacher in place. Actually she’s the national champion in Rwanda for Taekwondo and she’s taking over, hopefully keeping those classes going until we can get back and do some more training with them,” said DeVries.
“We sponsor them from here, so we support them, help pay the rent, help pay for the instructors from Canada,” said Siminoff “That’s the first experiment, my school in Nelson supporting the school in Rwanda, but the vision is to have these sister schools all across North America supporting [schools in areas with not just poverty, but a high risk of violence].”
Martial Arts for Justice has also been working with the Poor Women’s Development Network, teaching women in Rwanda self defense.
“They want us to come back desperately and so we’re going to set up some clinics and things with them,” said DeVries. “We really want to do it well, so we’re taking our time, setting up some women’s empowerment, some trauma counseling — a lot of them are genocide survivors or have lost people through genocide or suffer from AIDS or are trying to get out of prostitution. There’s just a variety of things that they’re trying to break free from.”
Breaking the boards doesn’t just offer Castlegar Taekwondo students the opportunity to metaphorically break the chains of slavery, human trafficking and violence, it also offers them the opportunity to metaphorically break through some of their own barriers.
“For these students it’s about breaking through their own personal barriers of lack of self confidence, pushing through things that are difficult,” said DeVries.
Before the students jumped into action, Councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff, who attended as a representative of the City of Castlegar, got a quick lesson from Siminoff and broke a board to kick things off.