Jailed kids in Senegal learn Olympic fencing

By Nosmot Gbadamosi, for CNN

Updated 5:03 AM ET, Wed October 5, 2016
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Welcome to Senegal's fight club, its only rule is that you must obey all rules. As part of a unique project, jailed children are being allowed a few hours out of prison to be taught how to fence. It is hoped it will help re-introduce them into society. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
The fencing program, encourages designated prison guards to be trained in the art of fencing, and in turn practice alongside their detainees to build trust. All the children are aged between 13 and 17.
Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Fencing is an activity that promotes 'equality and dignity for all'. It also teaches respect and self-awareness, which make it a powerful tool for rehabilitating young people, say program organizers. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Prison guard Fatoumata Sy referees a fencing match between jailed minors. "When we first proposed using fencing as an educative method, both judicial and penitentiary personnel were worried about the use of weapons and the risk of escape during the fencing sessions," says the program's creator Nelly Robin. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
But Robin insists "It's about building relationships of trust, in a neutral space, between jailed minors and adults, from whom they have often felt a sense of betrayal." For example, 17-year-old Daouda says, "[fencing] teaches you to have an open heart. When you have won you must go up to your opponent and you give your hand and shake." He adds, "The competitors respect you."
Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
"The weapon, the white attire, the mask, rites and rules, and situations of combat and arbitration," notes Robin, "No other sport can bring together all these elements." She told CNN. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
16-year-old Samba. Kids in the project hope to move onto become trainers. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Prison guard Fatoumata Sy assists a boy with his mask."Fencing "is a discipline," says Sy. "We try to transmit these rules to show that in a group, in society there is a discipline, there are laws that you have to respect."
Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Currently, fencing has only been introduced in Thiès, an ambitious plan hopes to introduce it in all juvenile prisons. Its popularity prompted a visit from Senegal's director of penitentiary administration, Daouda Diop to watch classes. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Trainor Abdouaye Gueye prepares to begin a training session with Mansour. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
There is a tendency to take a punitive approach to incarceration within Senegal, notes project manager Hawa Ba. it is hoped the project will offer a different approach. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Walls of the the prison housing over 1000 inmates in the city of Thiès, Senegal. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Chalk boards detail the number of inhabitants, nationalities and crimes committed at the prison in Thiès, Senegal. Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Daouda, 17 years old dresses in preparation for a fencing match. Child beggars and street children are also part of the classes and practice alongside incarcerated youths. More than 100 jailed minors have taken part in the program.
Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA
Within the classes, "'girls have discovered their capacity to command respect," says Robin, "and boys have learned to respect them." Courtesy Sam Phelps/OSIWA