Poverty is expected to increase globally this year with the COVID-19 pandemic. More people in need translates into increases in mental health issues, self-harm and gender-based violence.
Martial Arts for Justice is a Nelson-based charity that works locally, nationally, and internationally to help people overcome traumatic experiences, and their focus on mental health is more pressing this year than ever.
“As you can imagine, the various effects of the lockdown will hit those already in poverty even more harshly. People in poor countries with the lockdowns have suffered exponentially more than the rest of us. Our work is all about mental health, and we’re seeing even more reason why our work needs to continue,” says Master Dean Siminoff, president of Martial Arts for Justice.
The science, unfortunately, backs this up. Studies of past epidemics, and even of the current pandemic, highlight the concerns for the safety of women. Surges in gender-based violence and increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are fallouts of lengthy quarantines.
Yet because of the lockdowns and travel restrictions, many martial arts schools are not running, and this delayed Martial Arts for Justice ability to travel abroad to help people. While much of their work is in Rwanda and Uganda, they also provide training and assistance here in the Kootenays and across the country.
“MAJ works to help people overcome trauma. In a lot of cases, that’s helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also close ties in those situations to preventing gender-based violence,” Dean says.
“We see that especially in Rwanda where more than 25 years after the genocide, there are tens of thousands of survivors who still need to overcome what happened to them and their families. That lingering trauma is catastrophic and unfortunately often perpetuates in gender-based violence and other violence.”
Created by Master Siminoff and pioneered by MAJ - Enhanced Resilience Training is a unique method of body-mind training that helps to reset a person’s nervous system after experiencing trauma. Participants are guided through specialized exercises and theory that reverse the debilitating effects of trauma, and they become equipped to be more resilient and empowered.
Expertise needed for treating trauma can resonate just as strongly here as overseas. Dean says there is strong interest locally from people in various walks of life for their own healing such as healthcare workers exposed to trauma in their work who want to take the training to heal and maintain their own resilience.
MAJ raises money each year through a board breaking competition--Breaking Boards Breaking Chains--at martial arts schools across Canada. They normally have this competition in April. This year of course that had to be put on hold.
Master Siminoff was last in Rwanda in February just before the world went into lockdown. He says the country is just starting to come out of extremely strict lockdown measures.
“They’re just starting to get back to normal. Masks are mandatory. They’ll throw you in jail if you don’t wear one and give you a fine. But COVID hasn’t stopped MAJ from participating in mental health help,” he says.
The Breaking Boards Breaking Chains fundraising campaign will run throughout November in a mix of live and video streamed events. He says many martial arts schools in Canada have not been able to open yet because the live interaction is difficult with COVID protocols, so students will break boards at home or at smaller events at their schools or in other locations.
They’ll wrap up with a live streamed event on November 29 that will include participants from martial arts schools around the country, demonstrations from martial artist and stuntman Carl Fortin in Squamish, demos from martial artists in Rwanda and, Dean hopes, live interviews with guests in Rwanda which is nine hours ahead.
“We’re working on this every day,” he says. “Our goal is still to raise $75,000 by year end and to start the resilience training that we were going to do this year in Rwanda by January 2021.”
Before COVID hit, Dean and Martial Arts for Justice set a goal of providing resilience training to 500 survivors in Rwanda this year. They are showing their resilience by persevering and, although delayed, working to make that plan a reality.
Master Siminoff adds that although Breaking Boards Breaking Chains is for mobilizing martial arts schools across Canada, we need everyone who cares about fighting gender-based violence and trauma to donate or get involved. To make a donation, visit www.martialartsforjustice.org/donate-form/ or contact Master Dean Siminoff directly at Dean@martialartsforjustice.org and reserve your spot for our Enhanced Resilience coffee & dessert night where you can learn more about this exciting work.