Exchanging guns for gloves in Pakistani city

Boxing saving young lives in Karachi, Pakistan
Boxing saving young lives in Karachi, Pakistan

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    Boxing saving young lives in Karachi, Pakistan

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Boxing saving young lives in Karachi, Pakistan 02:36

Story highlights

  • Bilal Ahmed is from Lyari, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Karachi
  • Drug and gang violence is rampant here, killing nearly 100 people this year alone
  • For decades boxing has given thousands of Lyari's kids a new focus
  • African migrants brought boxing to Lyari in the 1940s when Karachi was part of British-ruled India
Do not mistake eight-year-old Bilal Ahmed's skin-and-bones body, his beguiling smile and his big beaming eyes for weakness.
Bilal changes when he steps into a boxing ring.
When the pint-sized Pakistani fighter climbed into a shabby old ring at an outdoor youth center, his smile turned into a stone cold scowl.
At the sound of the bell that marked the start of round one, his tiny fists at the end of his stick-like arms turned into pain-inflicting projectiles, pounding away at his opponent.
"I want to hit my opponent," says Bilal, minutes before the fight. "All I think about is winning."
Bilal is obsessed with winning because, to him, boxing is more than a sport. It's the one chance he has to escape Lyari, one of the poorest, toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the sprawling southern port city of Karachi.
Drug and gang violence is rampant here, killing nearly 100 people this year alone.
"There is shooting at night," Bilal says. "I wake up and go to my mom. When I grow up I'm going to take my family away from here."
But for Lyari's boys, the future is often bleak. Many here blame the government for failing to keep neighborhoods safe and a broken school system for robbing children of the chance to succeed.
For decades boxing has given thousands of Lyari's kids what the government has not -- a safe place to grow, learn and chase a dream.
African immigrants brought boxing to Lyari in the 1940s, when Karachi was still part of British-ruled India. More than 70 years later, 22 boxing clubs, run by volunteers and private donations, have made this neighborhood Pakistan's boxing factory.
"This is the second Cuba," says the head of the local boxing association, Asghar Baloch, referring to the Caribbean nation that has produced some of the best boxers in the world.
"If these kids weren't here, they would be with guns and arms," he says. "If we continue our positive activities, we will get positive results."
Positive results at Lyari's boxing clubs aren't necessarily trophies and victories in the ring. They're polite, healthy children who laugh and play, children who finish school.
But on this night it's all about winning for Bilal, who's taking on a bigger and taller opponent at an important tournament.
His opponent overpowers him in the opening round but Bilal stands his ground.
Round two is too close to call but Bilal wins the third and final round with lightning quick combinations and powerful right hooks.
The referee raises Bilal's arm in victory and back comes the big smile on the skinny little kid whose dream for a better life lives on.