Fight With Insight : Knocking out mental health issues in Jozi

Governance and Human Rights

End of 2022, the French Embassy in South Africa supported Fight With Insight for its work on mental health through boxing in Johannesburg’s inner city. This is in line with France’s commitment to supporting initiatives that use sports to advance development, human rights, and well-being.

Fight with Insight (FWI) uses boxing to help make a difference in society by providing children and youth with the tools and care they need to grow into responsible adults and prosper. The organisation works in Johannesburg’s inner city, in areas where many young people are struggling with mental health issues exacerbated by high rates of poverty, violence, and inequality. and basic rights violations, such as a lack of adequate nutrition and basic shelter, no access to health or social services and exclusion from school. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences like these further increases the risk of developing long-term physical and mental health problems, including aggressive behaviour, academic difficulties, emotional withdrawal, attention deficits, heightened arousal, anxiety, and social maladjustment among other effects. In the broader inner-city context, where there are decreasing levels of education and access to services and an increase in youth unemployment, particularly amongst our growing population of foreign nationals, children and youth are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges and suicide.

FWI is one of the rare programs in South Africa that focuses on boy children without excluding girl children, with the objective to reinvent manhood and unleash good men into the world. Their gym also provides a space where young people of various backgrounds and abilities may come together to interact and exchange experiences in a way that promotes greater social cohesion and equality across race, gender, and ability.

On 17th April 2023, we got the chance to get a sneak peek of the work of FWI with children living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In partnership with the Johannesburg School for Autism, FWI offers boxing classes to children with ASD to give them a sports activity, help them with mental health and social skills, and encourage a boxing vocation. ASD is a developmental impairment brought on by variations in the brain, and people living with it may struggle with confined or repetitive activities or interests, as well as social communication and engagement. They may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. Boxing helps improve the mental and physical abilities of children by promoting control behaviour, increasing the brain’s neuronal cells and developing cognitive and learning skills. The boxing sessions are overseen by professional coaches, occupational therapists, and teachers to maximize their advantages. According to the teachers at the Johannesburg School for autism, these boxing classes give the possibility to the children to socialize, control their body movements, express their feelings and fight obesity.

FWI runs five programs for their participants. The first one is called ‘fitness’ which promotes functional bodyweight training, fun runs and acquiring boxing as a skill. Through the fitness program, the children converge, and a team spirit is created as they encourage and support one another. This fosters a sense of belonging and a healthy environment. In addition, cardiovascular exercises help improve the children’s mood and memory. FWI aims at promoting not just healthy bodies but also healthy minds. Hence the second program called ‘functional feelings’, avails psychosocial support services, educational support, life skills training, and mental health interventions for the children.

The third program, “Family & Friends,” offers a platform for influencing and shaping young people into responsible adults through positive peer pressure. In this program, young people interact with possible role models in an effort to inspire them to strive for better lives and steer them away from the streets. Another program called “Fun” attempts to provide a secure environment where kids may play and interact with one another while participating in enjoyable activities. Finally, Fight With Insight has made an investment in a catering-grade kitchen because it recognizes the need for proper nutrition in fostering healthy lifestyles and feeding children well. As part of this program, they also hold culinary lessons where participants learn to prepare foods that taste great and encourage good health.

FWI has proven itself as an impactful organization that positively influences the lives of children. Their work doesn’t just benefit the children participating in their programmes, but their parents and communities as well. Providing extra support to children with ASD can empower them to develop critical skills that will last a lifetime and assist them in navigating the particular characteristics of their impairment. Fight With Insight’s work also serves as an inspiration for other members in society to invest in the wellness of children, support, and care. Since 2006, more than 1 000 children have been enrolled and each month 120 of them receive a nutritious meal. 90% of the children report less trouble at school and on the streets.

If you would like to learn more about FWI’s work and get involved, the organisation organizes open public runs and boxing classes every Saturday morning. Don’t miss out!

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