11/04/2019 – Fight for Peace’s Raíssa has had to overcome a number of obstacles in her life to get where she is today. Here she tells us how she has dealt with difficulties she faced at home and in her community, and the part that Fight for Peace has played in this.

“I live with my youngest sister and my mum and we live here in Nova Holanda (one of the 16 favelas that make up the Complexo da Maré where Fight for Peace is Located in Rio de Janeiro). My relationship with my sister is a little bit difficult, but we try and calm it down a bit every day. I feel really responsible for her. I find it quite hard being the oldest sibling, especially whenever my mum is not there.

When I was younger, up until the age of four, myself, my sisters and my parents all lived together in a different part of the city. At that time my dad used to beat my mum a lot. He would drink a lot, get home and be really aggressive with my mum. I grew up watching all of this. When I was nine I saw two women fighting on the TV. I thought ‘I tell you what, I’m gonna to start fighting.’ I became determined to fight and the truth was that I wanted to learn to fight so that I could protect my mum – to not leave my mum alone to face the worst side of my dad anymore. I started doing karate at a club but it wasn’t right, actually I became more aggressive and it got so bad that I even punched my cousin in the eye because he pulled my hair. This was outside of class, but I was asked to leave that class as result. I tried jiu jitsu at another club but again I was getting more aggressive. That was when I found out about Fight for Peace and started coming here to box.

In those days I was 15 or 16 years old and already I had the built-in mentality of meeting violence with violence. But when I started here, as well as combat sports, they had personal development classes. This was the class that ended up helping me a lot because it talked about real, everyday things and about everything happening here in Maré and in the world. It was also here at Fight for Peace that I first had any contact with a psychologist, which really helped me. She talked to me a lot. Beyond that, the Support Services was key for me. It helped me loads and ended up changing my mentality.

One day I went up to the top floor at Fight for Peace – which I still hadn’t been up to – and saw a woman taking a judo class. I’d never seen this before; up until then all my coaches had been men. That was when I gave up boxing and started doing judo. The female coach only stayed for a year and then I started having classes with another coach – Bira. Bira used to really talk to me, in the same way that a father and a daughter talk, and this was really cool for me personally because it was something I’d never had at home.

What my dad showed me was only ever violence. Bira really supported me in many ways and this gave me the strength to carry on doing judo. I was able to carry on growing and maturing and I then understood that I would have to free up the time it took to go and sort different things out. My mum and my dad ended up splitting up and, to this day, I’m happy about that because my mum had suffered a lot.

After some time, Bira noticed that I had a way with children and so he asked me to be one of his coaching assistants. In 2019, I was hired as an intern at Fight for Peace and I started giving judo lessons. As well as being an assistant coach at Fight for Peace, I study Physical Education at college. I managed to get a grant for 50% of the fees and I pay the other half. I also manage to help my mum who is unemployed. I feel responsible for everything, if you know what I mean. On top of this, my sister wasn’t studying and so we’ve had to work really hard to get her back into education, which thankfully she now is.

Dreams and the future

“I know that whenever I talk about my dreams, and about the future, I always end up talking about material things. But I know I’m only going to achieve all this doing what I love and what I believe in. I dream of having my own house, my own car and getting my degree – which is what I value most in my life. I also want to get my black belt in judo.

Living in Maré comes with its challenges. I leave in the morning to the sound of gunfire and often I have something to do at college but I can’t leave the house; this really makes me sad. I’ve already lost one job because there was gunfire and I couldn’t leave the house. Not everyone understands, of course. There are a lot of people with a lot of very unfair views about favelas, people who don’t know about the amazing work that’s done here.

I think the best part of Maré are the organisations that work here – all to help support young people and adults’ growth. Here at Fight for Peace, as well as boxing and martial arts classes, there’s also educational support, personal development sessions, job fairs, social assistance, psychology. It comes down to this – for me, Fight for Peace is the most positive thing that we have here in Maré. They’ve helped me a lot with family stuff, with professional stuff and with my schooling. And it all comes down to these three important points. But it’s also down to the fact that without the people here, I wouldn’t have had any support at all.