SPORT IS YOUR GANG – INSPIRING YOUNG PEOPLE AND BRINGING COMMUNITIES TOGETHER ACROSS MEXICO

11/01/2019 – For Giovanna Mondragón, Executive Director of Sport is Your Gang Mexico (SIYG), the power of combat sports lies in their ability to inspire young people and bring communities together. SIYG, a Fight for Peace Alliance member, is present in 25 of Mexico’s 32 states and uses an integrated methodology of combat sports and conflict resolution to support the personal development of young people living in vulnerable communities.

“Many young people find inspiration in sport, they find that sport can give you a second chance, they find that sport can help you compete, and, especially, it can help build a different community”, explains Giovanna. Community is central to the work of SIYG, many of the localities in which the organisation works suffer from poor access to resources, a lack of opportunities and widespread violence. This leaves young people, in particular, at risk of being exploited by criminal organisations and of being victims or perpetrators of crime.

The programmes set up by SIYG Mexico depend entirely on the support of the community, both in terms of the physical space used to stage the activities – schools , churches and public parks – and the professionals to deliver sessions. “We can’t just work with the young people, we have to work with the community, and also specifically with women through workshops on gender issues and domestic violence, because if we don’t, we can’t change the approach of the community”, says Giovanna. “This is a really important part of the programme, SIYG is not giving this to communities, they are in control – once the programme has been set up, it will be there with or without us.”

There are currently 200 SIYG groups operating across Mexico, reaching a total of 2,500 young people aged 6-17 years old. These young people take part in weekly muay thai or boxing training and end each session with personal development activities, in particular relating to conflict resolution.

SIYG has seen a number of young people find a different path through its integrated community programmes. Among these is David Lopes, a former participant and muay thai competitor who now teaches on the programme. David grew up in Ecatepec, an area of Mexico City with one of the country’s highest rates of violence, and, without the necessary support structures around him, found himself dropping out of school and becoming dependent on drugs.

David’s life changed when he met Oscar Peyrot, a muay thai coach who saw the athlete’s potential and convinced him to join Sport is Your Gang. “I didn’t have any goals or motivation, but that changed with my first competitive fight”, explains David. “No-one trusted me because I didn’t care about anything, but since joining Sport is your Gang my life changed radically. I began to have a different way of thinking about things and I became more motivated. And from one day to the other, I left the drugs behind.”

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With the support of Oscar his coach, David also began leading muay thai classes, thriving on the responsibility of supporting young people to succeed in and out of the gym. He has since returned to school and is in the final phase of completing his studies, while at the same time being a paid  Sport Is Your Gang Mexico Muay Thai Instructor. And it is in this role that David is making a difference in the lives of other young people: “In coaching, my focus has always been on young people struggling with drug addictions – it really isn’t easy being in this sort of situation in life. I like helping them with all my heart”.