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Canadian kids in martial arts are helping trauma survivors in Rwanda

Dean Siminoff is the founder of Martial Arts for Justice, a Nelson-based Canadian national charity that raises money each spring with a board breaking competition to fund projects such as bringing the Enhanced Resilience Program to Rwanda. — Submitted photo

Dean Siminoff has made six trips to Rwanda in the past four years to help spread a message of hope and confidence to the victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. He spreads this message through his specialized training designed to help people rebuild their capacity for resilience, empowering these individuals while healing their past trauma. This training method called “Enhanced Resilience Training” is the evolution of his more than 25 years of martial arts experience and his quest for justice.

When he returned to Rwanda this past April he saw the impact even a few hours of resilience training had on widows still recovering from the trauma of the genocide. Along with his Rwandan team, Dean visited one of the widows who had participated in Martial Arts for Justice’s enhanced resilience training in Kigali last October.

“This group of widows spent a couple of hours with us learning how the martial arts can help them become more resilient and overcome the lingering effects of their trauma from 25 years ago. The next day, one participating lady told me she’d had the best sleep she’d had in years, and that she dreamt she was being assaulted again, but this time she was able to fight back,” Siminoff says.  “It was an awakening of sorts for her, for her mind, her body and her spirit.”

“When I was back in Kigali in April, we made a point of going to visit her. She was excited to tell me that every day she practices the moves we taught her in October. She’s kept up the practice. This is the impact that our Enhanced Resilience Program can have,” he adds.

Siminoff is the founder of Martial Arts for Justice, a Nelson-based Canadian national charity that raises money each spring with a board breaking competition to fund projects such as bringing the Enhanced Resilience Program to Rwanda.

This year, the Breaking Boards Breaking Chains campaign raised $40,000 through martial arts schools from BC, the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The competition brings together martial arts students for a public display of breaking boards and raising awareness of the problems of violence and oppression around the world.

Students collect pledges for each board they break, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to Martial Arts for Justice.

The money raised is helping bring the Enhanced Resilience training to survivors, therapists and educators in Rwanda. Martial Arts for Justice has a small team in Rwanda that builds the connections, lays the groundwork and assists Siminoff on his training trips.

“The theme of our fund-raiser this year was healing trauma through building resilience. Coming back from Rwanda with stories, testimonials and evidence that the training is working helps these students at martial arts schools here in Canada see that their efforts have an outcome and are making a difference,” says Siminoff.

Breaking Boards Breaking Chains has raised more than $240,000 since it started in 2013. The money has supported efforts to end modern-day slavery, rescue victims of human trafficking, and help survivors of the Rwandan genocide overcome trauma and begin to rebuild their lives.

Martial Arts for Justice is an alliance of martial artists and school owners who choose to actively pursue justice, locally and globally. Located in Nelson, British Columbia, it works with martial arts schools across Canada and internationally to help bring an end to violence and oppression.

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