Born in Cologne, Germany, where he studied in sport science, Tarek Alsaleh is half Syrian.
In 2007 Tarek decided to follow his Syrian roots and travelled to Damascus. He organized classes in capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines acrobatics, dance and music.
Capoeira is not just about kicks and flips, Tarek says. There are no winners or losers. It originated among slaves in Brazil, and it was a way to keep the spirit free while the body was confined. The dance creates a sense of equality, tolerance and dignity.
Tarek was asked by the United Nations to set up classes for Iraqi refugees in UN-run schools around Damascus. But what he found was that local Syrian children were jealous of the new UN schools for Iraqi refugees. Tensions between the two communities combined with this sense of unfairness meant Iraqi and Syrian children had never become friends.
Tarek started offering his capoeira classes to Syrian children and young Iraqi refugees. Thanks to the classes, he was able to get Iraqi and Syrian children to play and bond together.
Capoeira itself demands cooperation, swapping partners and ultimately playing with everyone. That is what Tarek calls “the capoeira way”. For the local teachers it was unbelievable – something they’d never seen before.
Through sport, says Tarek, it is possible to start a process of healing and growth together, to learn about tolerance and self-worth. This, he believes, is essential to rebuild broken communities and broken people from unjust and conflict situations.
Check out Tarek Alsaleh’s website.