The Breaking Boards Breaking Chains fundraising campaign will run throughout November in a mix of live and video streamed events.
The annual event is sponsored by Martial Arts for Justice (MAJ), a Nelson-based charity that works locally, nationally, and internationally to help people overcome traumatic experiences. This year’s focus on mental health is more pressing than ever, says Dean Siminoff, the organization’s president.
While much of MAJ’s work is in Rwanda and Uganda, it also provides training and assistance here in the Kootenays and across the country.
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 Nov. 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, Siminoff hopes, live interviews with guests in Rwanda, which is nine hours ahead.
“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.”
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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.
“As you can imagine, the various effects of the lockdown will hit those already in poverty even more harshly,” Siminoff says. “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.”
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.
“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,” Siminoff 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 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.
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.
To make a donation, visit www.martialartsforjustice.org/donate-form/ or contact Siminoff directly at Dean@martialartsforjustice.org and reserve your spot for our Enhanced Resilience coffee and dessert night where you can learn more about this exciting work.