When we talk of justice, we mean stepping up for the weak and vulnerable. This is what Dean Siminoff, the brains behind Martial Arts for Justice is doing in Rwanda.
For a week now, the 59 year-old has been in the country training 35 therapists from AVEGA Agahozo, on self-resilience.
He had a chat with Sunday Magazine’s Lydia Atieno about the impact of the programme on violence and trauma victims.
Who is Master Dean Siminoff and how did you get involved in martial arts?
I started practising martial arts in 1994, and I have been doing it for 24 years now. The longer I trained the more I wondered what more there was to martial arts.
Martial arts is more than just kicking and punching. If you go way back in history, they had a code of conduct that was used and a big part of that had to do with justice.
Most martial arts today has lost some of that, after several years of training, I started to realise there is something missing which got me thinking about what was missing and tried to find a solution.
What inspired Martial Arts for Justice?
Martial arts for Justice is a registered community charity, where we do a lot of fund raising in Canada and very soon in the United States of America.
Most martial arts trainers in the community actually do good work because they are training both children and adults and they are making them powerful and healthy at the same time. But, personally, I had a great vision for the world by uniting all martial athletes for one cause.
Worldwide, there are two million children every year that are trafficked in sex trade, among others, which is a huge number.
There are so many martial athletes in the world, 50 to 100 million people worldwide that practise martial arts, while close to 200 million practise taekwondo, which is a ridiculous number of people practising martial arts, but why do we have two million children that are victims of violence and human trafficking?
These ratios don’t make any sense to me.
This is the reason we should unite and be one, we can do that using different ways. My journey has led me to Rwanda right now and with the reliance programme, not only can we heal post-trauma but we are making people more resilient for the future.
Martial arts for Justice was formed in 2015 after my first trip to Rwanda. After the trip my mind was thinking about what more can I do to help people use martial arts.
I just felt that it was not good enough to sit in my comfortable zone in Canada. I made two more trips to Rwanda, exploring different ways of how I can help and learn more because in the early days I didn’t know much about Rwanda.
This is where I learnt more about gender based violence, and realised that there could be a lot of violence against children, young girls and women.
I have heard the stories of an epidemic of teenage pregnancies, that’s how I started going about teaching self-defence to young girls and women. It was the beginning of an enhanced reliance programme early this year.
We did several small group projects testing out the whole process among women. Not only training, self-defence and empowering them but to see whether or not we got the results of trauma healing.
In all those, results of trauma healing seemed to be very obvious and testimonies of women themselves and their therapists were overwhelming. I was excited about the future for enhanced resilience training and the possibilities, especially in Rwanda.
Martial arts for justice is a Canadian charity organisation right now but we want to focus mainly in Rwanda. It’s for all Rwandan people but, more specifically, for the widows.
Apart from the widows, who else are you targeting?
Another target will be on the young girls in schools, we will introduce the resilience programme so that they learn not only self-defence but also for them to gain confidence to say no, stand up for themselves and teach them different things to make their minds strong as teenagers.