Many teenagers in an eastern Gambian town had their lives turned around when a karate champion opened a few months ago the first school dedicated to the martial art.
Saikou Yaffa, the 2016 national karate champion originally from Sutukoba town located 350 kilometers (217 miles) east of the Gambian capital, set up the 60-student school in August 2018, reports Efe news.
"Our main objective is to improve the students' self-esteem and turn them into better people," Yaffa told EFE.
Karate is a respected and popular martial art in Gambia, where the national karate federation continues to strengthen the name of the small West African country on an international scale.
However, the federation failed to decentralise its activities and ensure the martial art lovers could also practice the sport in rural areas, where almost 40 per cent of the country's two million inhabitants reside.
Those living in rural areas are often deprived of this opportunity due to absence of nearby facilities, as well as the difficulty in travelling to Banjul, where most national competitions take place.
Yaffa's idea to open a karate school came after he won the national championship in 2016. He realised many young people in his village could make it if they had the chance to get training.
Meanwhile, one of the school's students said he had been "a karate lover since childhood. I grew up watching Chinese movies and that inspired me a lot." "Without the Sutukoba Karate Club, it would have been an impossible dream," he said.
The karate school also organises an annual competition in Sutukoba. It is attended by hundreds of spectators, many of whom parents of students who would like to learn the martial skills.
On the eve of the February 16 competition, Yaffa gathered all his students for a final rehearsal at the school, where they kicked, punched and performed defensive movements.
"Tomorrow is a big day. You must remember the tactics you learned and respect the rules," Yaffa said to encourage athletes, while reminding them the winner would get a prize and certificate.
Sutukoba mayor Kumuntung Jabai who witnessed the competition promised the club land for training. "I am delighted to see how far they have come. Their skills will not only be useful for self-defence, but also to protect our town in case of attacks," Jabai joked.
Yaffa said the road has not always been easy without sponsors and not all students have their own kimono as their families cannot afford it.
"The difficulties are numerous. We lack equipment and an adequate space to train. We do it in the school's classrooms," he said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)