Peace After Fists

This is a great child smiling angel, a young man with hard body and dry cordial in behavior, talkative and jovial in tone. But a big kid with a jaw of steel. Michel Etoundi is a Cameroonian boxer 20 years ago, a seed of arrival in the periphery violent and difficult champion Rio de Janeiro at the option of wandering, granted or not.

Twenty years old and already a long life in the form of a broken line that comes from finding refuge quite by chance in one of the rooms of sports most promising of the city, if not the country, carrying a stage name that looks like a manifesto: Luta pela Paz, “struggle for peace” to the measure of its values ​​and its wild ambitions.


Michel was born in Yaounde in a neighborhood “banal and socially average”, as he says: “Only” means “because I’ve known worse. “His vocation was born boxer at the age of 7 years, a time when the American fighting Mike Tyson again were all the rage on television worldwide. One day, his father, separated from his mother told him that Tyson was so powerful that it could kill with a single blow. “And I thought my father was the strongest in the neighborhood! “The boxing became his Viaticum, she will never leave.

Against the wishes of his mother, Michael is part of a drive from the capital of room Cameroon at the age of 15 years. “She was against boxing, against the idea that I invest in this sport detriment of the school. “He smiled. In November 2008, Michel rises for the first time in the ring. In May of the following year, he won his first fight with ease. His coach was quick to praise his great potential. A sacred locally rooted still a little kid his dream of one day to integrate the global elite.


His mother went to France to exercise the profession of naturopathy. Michel does not accompany, he says he does not get along with his new companion. At 18, he took the initiative to leave Cameroon. It aims Cuba or Mexico , the top two nations pugilistic in his eyes. He will not speak to anyone, or almost. His mother sent him 2,300 euros for coming to join in France. He will buy a go way to Rio de Janeiro “I thought. Brazil was close to these two countries, I was wrong, he slips his white voice, adding: This is an error, error teenager I now face the consequences. I left school, I moved away from my family for this passion of boxing that will not let me. It’s hard, but I think have now found a balance, far from Cuba and Mexico. “Michel arrives with the illusion of the intoxication of freedom and a suitcase. It has no address or even a phone number. First favela, Bras de Pina, northern area. First motel cheap, “Love” or “Glamour”, he said have forgotten. “I discovered a violence that I did not suspect, he loose. Never had I seen so many of weapons. I was afraid, until we were told that the situation was worse in Mexico. ”

He loses his passport. Discovers a small community of Congolese migrants from trying their luck on the Brazilian land. They help him and found a small room in rent . Michel became hairdresser, he learned Portuguese street. The weather is getting by. He was 19, he survives.

One of his Congolese friends introduced him to a boxing coach of a sports club and fitness Santa Rosa, Niteroi. Man redirects without haggling to the academy Luta pela Paz. Michel presents the next day. It will leave more place.

The three-storey building is located within one of the main streets and among the most dangerous in the Complexo da Mare, a set of seventeen favelas embedded into each other, facing the airport international and along the famous Avenida Brasil, the urban jungle and shadows drugged crack. Some 140 000 people live in this pyramidal interlacing pre balance cairo , traveled short streets and narrow alleys. Together, they intersect at the discretion of the territories and invisible borders drawn by the three major gangs in the city, plus recently militia groups. A cocktail of tension and permanent confrontations in the middle of which are located a handful of NGOs and courageous associations such as the former English champion university boxing, Luke Dowdney one day of the year 2000.


Come here, as does Michel each day of the week except Sunday, is running the risk of falling on the intervention of the shock troops of the Police or military cross lookouts and dealers arm ed M16 rifles exceeding times their own size. Venturing across the sports complex leads to a wasteland used to put pigs and horses, fed garbage and exhaust surrounding expressways pots.

They are 900, from 7 to 29 years to participate in sports and educational activities offered by this urban sanctuary. More than 80 train in the ground floor, devoted exclusively to the noble art. Three teachers are coaching, whose charismatic Antonio Cruz de Jesus, said, “Gibi” coach Michel. Former member of the Brazilian national team, he raved about his new colt “Our school is made ​​for that. build citizen athletes, he said each his course, but here everyone fits. . Even the guys on the street. After a month of training, which concludes the first climb in the ring, we see that they change and become calmer already. “The assistance of the head nods.

On the walls of the boxing gym, yellowed articles form a mosaic in honor of its occupants. Journal of English and Brazilian press, we came across portraits Roberto Custodio, 69 kg, first boxing champion Brazilian Luta pela Paz from 2010 and continental champion in its class in 2013. There there Thayson de Souza, winner of the title in its category in 2011, invited since to join the national team. Silver medals and bronze. References as laurels woven by the British authorities, these flattering securities received by NGOs such as “Civil Society Organization of Public Interest.” And especially some pictures of the creator of the place, “Luke,” as everyone calls it. Seen asking over the years with his cropped hair and eternally youthful mug false villain. It has not changed.

Local and respected by all figure, Luke began by driving ten kids here. At 41, he is now the head of this formidable structure employing about 90 people, with two other open spaces Mare, a center Fight for Peace in London in 2008, trained in total 30,000 youth and accompanied by 160 NGOs in their fight against violence worldwide. “Here and elsewhere, it’s the system that needs to take , “said the son of a docker” somewhat conservative, “according to the highest principles of meritocracy. Himself having completed studies in anthropology while boxing to “correct level”, as he says, until he put an end to his fighting ring following a cerebral hemorrhage.

Luke leave Recife write his university thesis on child murders. He wrote in the wake of two books on urban violence, Meninos do trafico (“Children of traffic”, 2003 untranslated) and Nem nem guerra paz (“Neither war nor peace”, 2005). He explains: “The prison is useless. It is very easy to marginalize young people already trapped in the violence. How can we accept a kid of 13 years with a weapon of war? This is absurd. “With clear and hard rules in gyms, as well as civics, literacy, IT or management, Luke is convinced of its methodology.” I never entered the field of moral . I seek only solutions. Believe me, we can make change so much. ”

In mid-November, he was received at 10 Downing Street by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Prince Charles had come to greet in March 2012. “Initiatives launched by the authorities, but important,” he insists, for the image and for patrons of NGOs (including Ikea Foundation, Petrobras or Laureus ) with a budget of € 5 million (€ 3.7 million) per year. What up a charity website selling products, consider new projects, pay its staff and provide a scholarship to dozens of top athletes like Michael. “Him? It has something to share, a way of dodging that is not learned, “Luke slice.


The young man smiled again. He just got third in Paulista championship, reputedly the most demanding. Disappointed after having lost points against the winner of the event, he repeats that he will drop anything: “I came here to find and I was welcomed like a family. “Michel de Cuba no longer dream. He thinks to form Mare still a year or two. At four hours of intensive training per day. Climb the steps at your own pace, and do not miss the entry dreaded among professionals. This world so difficult, often brutal and ungrateful, which won a fight here in Brazil reported 1,000 reais (320 euros), at most.

For the moment he saw her purse and boxing classes he gives from time to time. “Enough to buy some vitamins and clothing drive. “Her mother, Michael is now called once or twice a week. The idea of a boxer son seems more upset . It evokes lip possible trip , if he can muster the necessary identity papers to the reach in France. A country where, with the Germany , infrastructure and technology are taught rather good, does it advance. Echoing the comments of Luke, Michel wants to believe : “We all have the right to a second chance. “