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The Hwa Rang Do Angola Experiment – In Angola’s “City of Trash”

If you were to do a Google search for “Lixeira, Luanda” you won’t find much. The only helpful search result is a picture on TravelPod.com.  This picture shows a child, sifting through a garbage dump, which in reality, tells you everything you need to know – this is Lixeira.

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Lixeira is a city within the province of Luanda in the African nation of Angola, which is built entirely on top of a garbage dump.  The poorest of the poor in the world live here with the trash surrounding them being the source for supplies, tools, food and regrettably, even water.

“My first striking impact with this place was the sight of thousands of slums where some 500,000 people lived surrounded by tons of rubbish scattered all over the place. Many of these inhabitants lived in a condition of malnutrition and sickness”.
– Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

“The conditions of the place for the mission are disastrous, no kind of hygiene, rubbish everywhere, rust, open air sewer, streams of dirt and piles of garbage that people burned, which released a thick smell so bad that, for the 21 days there, I couldn’t see clearly the sun or the moon.”
Emanuele Veluti
(TSD Half Black Belt)

Lixeira and the surrounding regions along with being one of the most impoverished places in the world, is also one of the most dangerous, where only missionaries (with approval from the government) are allowed to stay and work.  Even then, with no assurances for their safety, several missionaries have recently been murdered while performing their humanitarian works.

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It is here that 4 brave men and women from the Hwa Rang Do Italian branch have traveled to teach the children of Lixeira, the ancient korean martial art of Hwa Rang Do – with the goals of the mission being to teach the life skills of unity, motivation, strength, and self-awareness through the practice of Hwa Rang Do and otherwise provide the experience of a lifetime to children in a part of the world which is forgotten and void of any future worth looking forward to.

“I think it’s vitally important to teach these children a behavior based on moral values. The alternative to their current condition is to get involved with other youngsters addicted to sniffing petrol or starch, or burglary.

“The primary purpose of our mission is to give these children a chance to choose their own future; to grow and improve their lives, in spite of the fact that they were born in Lixeria. Otherwise, they have no other prospective but end up in one of the local criminal bands.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Chief Instructor Marco Matiucci, head of the Italian Hwa Rang Do branch, had the difficult tasks of selecting 4 of his students to take part in this mission (they had many more volunteers for the mission than they could send).  Instr. Matiucci had to grapple with the very serious possibility that the students he selected could be robbed, assaulted, kidnapped or even killed.  With that in mind, the criterion used to select the students was for lack of better wording, “who would be missed the least?” – meaning:

Are they an only child? Do they have kids? How big is their family? Does their family depend on the person financially?  Are they married? Do they have a girlfriend/boyfriend?

… the unthinkable questions had to be asked in order to make the selection for the mission.

The brave volunteers chosen were Laura Della Mora (TSD Yellow Belt), Emanuele Veluti (TSD Brown Belt), Maria Luisa Medelin (HRD Blue Sash & HRD Team Leader), and Davide Pizzo (TSD Brown Belt), while being led by General Italo Governatori (General of the Italian Military Police Force, close friend of Instr. Matiucci and President of “Lumbe Lumbe).

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Lumbe Lumbe is a non-profit organization based out of Italy, devoted to helping the poorest people in Brazil, Mozambique and Angola create businesses, and schools for children in the most impoverished areas of these countries.  In Angola, they work directly with Salessiani, an international Catholic organization for African missions.

“I was deeply impressed with the work done by the Salessiani missionaries; over the course of 30 years, they succeeded to create 18 youth centers in the district of Lixeria that take care of 50,000 children. These children are taught the rudiments of the alphabet, practice sport and are prepared professionally. They have a future ahead and it’s all due to the hard daily work and sacrifices of the missionaries. The friars never show signs of tiredness and they possess a strong spiritual force within them. Their reward, they say, is donating themselves to others.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Lumbe Lumbe prepares 2 to 3 Italian teams per year to go to Angola to help the Salesiani teach children and help their families become more independent.  Initially, Lumbe Lumbe was hesitant about the possibility of teaching Hwa Rang Do and Tae Soo Do (Sport version of HRD) in Angola, but after witnessing the professionalism, dedication and self-discipline of Italy’s Hwa Rang Do instructors, they saw the incredible value they could bring to the people of Lixeira.

“People can be poor, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have rich thinking!”
Laura Della Moral
(TSD Yellow Belt)

All members of the Hwa Rang Do team paid for all travel expenses themselves, including $1500 for each individual plane ticket with Ethiopia Airlines.  They also each had to purchase insurance, in the event of injury or death. Lumbe Lumbe aided with the slew of vaccinations, organization of the trip and over 4 weeks of emergency courses to psychologically prepare the team in the areas of terrorism, psychological resistance to extreme situations, and how to move and act within Angola.

The responsibilities for the team were as follows:

  • The team-leader (Maria Luisa) will manage the Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do lessons and the relationships with the local people (formal, legal and practical).
  • The rest of the team will help the team leader in everything she needs, from lessons to their ultimate safe return to Italy.
  • The mission is a personal engagement for all participants with the people of Lixeira, not just through the HRD/TSD activity. (Participants are aware of the serious problems they will face in doing so.)

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The general plan for the “Angolan Experiment” was:

  • Arrive in Luanda and contact the Salesiani (missionaries)
  • Official contact with the Italian Diplomatic Corp in Angola.
  • Official contact with the religious leaders in Angola
  • Official contact with other voluntary organizations in Angola, including a local Capoeira organization.
  • Make contact with the local people, local leaders and access any potential issues or problems

Proceed with Hwa Rang Do/Tae Soo Do activities and instruction:

  • The team leader will work together with the Salesiani to find a location for lessons, to schedule the lessons and recruit/encourage local children to attend.
  • Organize meetings and joint activities with the local Capoeira organization and discuss other possibilities for the future.
  • Each HRD/TSD lesson is expected to be 50 – 100 students, with multiple lessons throughout the day to serve as many children as possible.
  • Towards the end of the 3 weeks, organize a party and martial arts demonstration for the town.
  • Safely return to Italy

The team travelled to Angola for 3 weeks for their mission, which began on August 1st, 2009 …

“Before departing I had inquired about Angola, on its history, on Luanda and on the specific district where we would spend the three weeks, but to imagine is however far from what one lives, for sure all this has prepared me, but the initial impact was strong and I believe that I would not have been able to avoid it. The traffic, the confusion, the crowd of people that floods the roads, the smog, the garbage, the intrusive odors, the dust, the being submitted to the looks of all for the color of your skin, the danger, the fear, the smiles, the handshakes, the embraces, the heat, the joy, the poverty, the wealth. All comes out together.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

During this time, there was limited communication being sent via email, including pictures to Lumbe Lumbe, Hwa Rang Do Italy and Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci.

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As you can imagine, with limited communication, the Hwa Rang Do leadership worried and hoped that as every step in the plan was implemented, it was done with safety & security being the #1 priority.

As their mission moved forward during the 2nd week, we received this email from Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci:

“I have to admit that in these days I’m a little bit worried for the Angola team because they just told me that they have started the activity outside of the protected area (that is, outside of the area managed by the Catholic missionaries). There are a lot of people who are armed around them and a lot of “children-hunters” (local people that kill or kidnap children to use them for experiments or other evil intentions).

“As part of their mission to engage the local residents, our team is playing with the children, inviting them to wash and clean, cut their hair (Emanuele is a professional hairdresser), but most importantly, motivate them and teach them self-respect and self-awareness according to HRD/TSD teaching (principles and techniques). Children-hunters are often justified for their nasty work by authorities and corrupt government officials because the children are dirty and uncontrolled. So these kidnappings are allowed as a way to remove a “problem” for the society…

“Because of that, the activity of our Angola team creates a real problem for both for these corrupt officials and for the children-hunters.

“This makes me worry.

“I told them to be carefully in motivating too much, everything has to be done carefully otherwise we may have political/criminal problems or worse.

“As a result of this communication, the World Hwa Rang Do Association refrained from publishing this article or attracting any publicity to the self-less efforts of the Hwa Rang Do & Lumbe Lumbe Angola team, until they had safely returned to Italy.”

“In Angola all, big and small, they intensely live every instant, as if that moment were the last, as if tomorrow didn’t exist.

“The situation of the women is almost disastrous, they are not considered, they are used, they have 4-5 children and they are alone; husbands go away, so women are forced to maintain the family by themselves, working the whole day, but yet they sing and continually smile. Children play for road barefoot, among mountains of garbage, with balls deflated or made of cloths, or on abandoned and rusted cars, risking every time to hurt themselves, to become infected, if not worse to die…

“But yet they always smile too.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

On August 24th, at 6am all 4 HRD team members and General Italo Governatori flew into Italy and were greeted by a group of Hwa Rang Do students from the various Italian schools & clubs to welcome them with smiles, hugs and kisses.

Everyone, including Hwa Rang Do Italy, Lumbe Lumbe and the humanitarian organizations in Angola are grateful for the successful completion of the mission and for the safe return of everyone involved.

It is with great pride that we salute our Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do brothers and sisters for their selfless dedication to humanity and in helping the weakest, poorest and most desperate of our kind in the absolute worst conditions, when even their own country is not willing to care for them…

“Three weeks have been full of new difficulties, challenges of management; as team leader I felt the responsibility for my companions, my “brothers”, and I could not think only about myself, even if I was in a new and different environment; I had to check everything, every move, perceive all the states of mind…

“One day they brought us in visit for the city, and I discovered that Luanda has rich districts, skyscrapers, plasma screens, commercial centers, places and villas with swimming pools… but these areas are usually only frequented by the few rich Angolan people and by the many foreigners that work there.

“Many questions flashed in my head. How is it possible that this happens?!…

“I saw that next to these places (almost exclusively frequented by white people) around many corners there is someone who dies on the road or some orphan boy who survives by washing cars. Boys with long hair, unable to afford a haircut, are persecuted by police because of their appearance.

“My mind raced with many thoughs… “why?… why?…” and the anger was the emotion  that invaded me.

“I have told in the beginning, “confusion and contradiction”: these are the memories of my trip, because I can’t understand how all is possible. I would want to change this all, I would want to help, to do the best I can, but I feel impotent. I came with the idea to help in every way I can, prepared to work as physiotherapist, if there had been the opportunity and to teach Tae Soo Do everyday, all day.

“The experience of the teaching has been exciting: at the beginning I felt some fear, I didn’t know the language well, how to explain and what to say, but in the end it has been simple… it was enough to DO!
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

This mission marks the beginning of a broader mission by the World Hwa Rang Do Association to bring the gift of self-empowerment to all, as it has done for so many of Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do students worldwide.

As the rest of the industry focuses on providing entertainment via pay-per-view spectacles, Hwa Rang Do has remained steadfast in its commitment – to empower humanity via the principles, teaching and practice of its martial discipline.  This trip and the incredible experiences, which you are reading excerpts from, are the epitome of what Hwa Rang Do as an organization is striving to do…

“One evening I went out with Father Roberto, a 75 years old “Hwarang” (to whom I gave the official Hwa Rang Do T-shirt) who walked his path without looking back, straight to his purpose with a strength, an empathy and a sensibility that spoke to me many times (I immediately had an admiration to him – I like people who speak few and do a lot). With him I went, in the night, through a big market called “roche” (large about 10 km).

“I admit that my attention to dangers was very high (obviously, for the influence of the practice of Hwa Rang Do, which pushes me in paying attention to the details of the places where I go): there where fires everywhere, people running, loud music, children screaming.

“After a long walk we reached the destination, that was a “caisa de rua”, a house dedicated to hosting the “crianca de rua” (homeless children). In that place children can find water to clean themselves and a roof under which they can stay and, if they do good actions, they earn credits they can use (at the end of the year at the Don Bosco party) to get clothes or other useful things to survive.

“Father Roberto asked me, knowing my profession, if I wanted to cut the hair of the kids.

“Obviously my task was easy to be done, I’ve done it for many years, it’s what I’ve seen since I was very young and it’s what represent me. So I said to him “no problem” and I started working.

“One, two, three… I started cutting hair one after another; everybody smiled to me, they introduced themselves, they were happy, we laughed together about the styles of cutting: they have impressive eyes, true warrior eyes.

“I started being hungry, I was hungry, hungry to cut as much as possible because I wanted to make them all happy, give them my best. This motivated me, so I kept on without stopping, without fear, I could accomplish it, I could make all of them happy!

“After some time the tools I was using (with battery) ended the charge and stopped supporting me, it didn’t have any more energy for me. I started sweating, being afraid, “what can I say to the others?”, but I had to do it, I could do it, “let’s go! Find a solution!”  Electricity is what we needed, but in vain I looked for a cable to get the energy, we were in the dark with some portable lights only. My instruments were abandoning me.

“Then I thought I had a shaving blade with me, “good!” So I kept on doing my job… problem solved.  One, two, three… but then the blade became dull, it didn’t cut anymore, again another problem; I looked madly in my bag for another one, but nothing more to use in there… “but, it has to be here, I remember I brought it, where is it?… I can’t find it…”, I couldn’t go on… I didn’t have any more tools to continue, I ran out of ideas, I felt hopeless…

“Through the desperation of the moments passing by, the stream of painful emotions ripped through me, many thoughts about what I did wrong and I could do, about having to accept the loss, I started to cry thinking I couldn’t finish what I began, I had failed, I couldn’t help everybody with the few I knew.

“So father Roberto got close to me and, understanding my state, put his hand on my shoulder, as my father does, as Kyo Sa Nim does, and said to me: “Don’t worry, come on! Be strong!”.

“It’s a simple action of love that only people like him give me that way. A love that rarely is given to me, an action that represent so much for me.

“Then we came back home and obviously the journey back, always between fires an screams of the roche (market), created a suggestive atmosphere; it seemed like we were coming up from hell…

“So, the day after I went to an oratory, the same oratory full of kids running, pushing each other, screaming, jumping on you, kids who eat you alive to get you attentions.

“But it was a different day, there were A LOT of kids and the entertainment of the oratory for them didn’t start yet. On one side there was some sand and some children playing on it, I couldn’t sit down, I love grappling: so I got nearer and I started wrestling with them and as they knew of me, they all came to me and wrestle all together! I started throwing them one after the other, soft as the hand on my shoulder that gave me relief days before.

“During that play, casually I called a kid “cicciottello” (= “fat”, said in a nice and funny way) and he immediately repeated it in perfect Italian language; of course I was astonished of that and so I thought: “come on, try and give them what you adore..” and so I said to them “Tae Soo Do!” and they repeated it perfectly… “Hwa Rang Do!” and they all did, perfectly again and it’s easy to understand my feeling in that moment, because I know people who still can’t pronounce it.

“So I gave a punch and they copied perfectly… “ok, the moment has come, I can try…”

“I told to all the children to follow me on the line of the soccer field and with those 20 kids, avoiding any possible formation (because to wanted to stay close to me), I started walking from one side to the other yelling “Tae Soo Do – Hwa Rang Do”, giving punches (like in the warm up), and since they were 20, they became 30, 40, then 50!! We were so many and all yelling that we covered almost all the soccer field and at every scream I had shivers through my back-spine, my voice was one with the childrens’ voice and my heart was exploding.

I was feeling again the sensation of “giving myself”.

I looked to my friend Davide (adventure fellow) and he was almost crying; later he told me that he felt moved by me and all the children and I answered that he couldn’t even imagine what was flowing in my blood in that moment and that I wished for him to feel the same.

Emanuele Veluti (TSD Half Black Belt)

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There are many wonderful humanitarian groups who bring much needed aid in the form of food, medical care, clothing, schools and other forms of relief to places like Angola.

In an effort to build on top of the essentials for life provided by people like Father Roberto and other humanitarian organizations, Hwa Rang Do’s mission is to bring transformation to these regions and other areas of the world, beginning with the development of the self, by first instilling confidence, awareness and development of the individual. This in turn empowers families, groups, organization, entire countries and ultimately, the world.

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As Grandmaster Taejoon Lee stated during his speech at his 8th Dan ceremony:

“The lessons I have learned from him [Dojoonim] are too many to tell in one sitting. It will take a lifetime.  So, I shall share with you all that I have learned from my master, if you will share your life with mine.  And we shall mop the world together as one, to hopefully instill the power of one; to believe in the self as all great things started from one person, then when all the people are self-empowered, then hopefully we can all live together as one in peace, in harmony.”

16 Responses to “The Hwa Rang Do Angola Experiment – In Angola’s “City of Trash””

  1. […] Do Outreach This goes to tell you that martial arts is not only about kicking and punching…… Hwa Rang Do's 'Angola Experiment' in the "City of Trash" | Taejoon Lee __________________ Complete Martial Arts | MyMMAZone | Martial Arts Listings | Martial Action […]

  2. Shiva says:

    May the world realize once and for all that Oneness and live in peace!

    Blessings to the members of that trip and to the people of Angola!

    Thank you Master Lee for sharing this message!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ferny Ceballos and HwaRangDo, Jonas Knudsen. Jonas Knudsen said: This is why I am a Hwarang! http://bit.ly/2FNr7s @HwaRangDo […]

  4. Incredible story! Thank you sir for sharing this with us. Martial Arts can definitely bring positive change to a world in need of hope.

  5. Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy ~ Blacktown City Australia says:

    The Care ~ Compassion ~Tolerance we teach in all Martial Arts must transcend the walls of our personal Dojo ~ Hwa Rang Do ~ you have done that admirably !!
    Richard Holdstock ~ Sensei
    Blacktown City ~ NSW ~ Australia

  6. Ronin-Sensei, Russell G. Carter, Jr. says:

    Thank you Master Lee for sharing this with me. I will be sharing this with the students of the Ronin-ryu, with emphasis on how significant personal, not-for-profit effort in the teaching and sharing of knowledge in any martial arts within any community can and will promote positiveness within any community.
    You and yours have my utmost respect and admiration!!!

  7. I am so proud and humbled to be part of our Hwa Rang Do family. What an outstanding example of all we stand for. To my Italian brothers and sisters, thank you for leading by example and for being a light in an otherwise dark and dreary place. Not only have your efforts touched the lives of those suffering in Angola, but they touch the lives of all who hear of your journey. As one of those, I thank you for your selfless act of humanity. God Bless you all! Hwa Rang Forever!
    Master Kijek
    Hwa Rang Do Academy – Madison, WI

  8. Dear Master Lee,

    I can relate to your article here Master Lee, as I was a Helicopter Pilot stationed in Angola, Africa for just over three years (Jan.06.-Mar.09), and my arrival and departure was through the Luanda airport. Martial Arts has had a monumental impact on mine and my sons life as well as others from many countries for thousands of years, but you have shown the world what we can as people have an impact on the lives of those less fortunate as ourselves. I have many personal friends in Angola who have actually e-mailed me today just to say that they have been praying for my son who was in a serious motor vehicle accident on 19 Sep.09. I THANK “GOD” that he is doing much better, but will be undergoing physical therapy for the next 6-8 months. (My son Michael Jr. received his Black Belt in Taekwondo when he was 12 yrs. old)
    God will Bless everyone of your Teams throughout the world, but I personally want to thank you from the bottom of my heart

    God Bless and Be Safe!

    Cpt. Michael R. Metzler Sr
    Helicopter Maintenance Test Pilot
    Piloto De Prueba

    P.S. My grandmother was from Sicily (Katie Barone), and I am proud to be
    of Italian descent.

  9. It is people like you read here that whole the true values of the real martial arts.
    I have been in the arts for 46 years and have done alot and seen alot in my years. This is true class of people putting there self in harms way to help a group of people that they do not know. Each one of you should be commended for you true heroism. When you do not know your destiny and choose to undertake a great danger just shows what quality of people that are in the martial arts. May God Bless each one of you for you dedicated service.

    GM Mike Curtis 9th Dan TKD, 7th Shotokan

  10. This is what more martial artists should be doing to demonstrate the peace of the arts. Good job and glad you are home safe and sound.

  11. Thad says:

    And the light will shine from your face into a darkened world that needs the light.

    yes, I was truly inspired by this incomparable mission that treads a difficult path through some of the darkest places on earth, these brave missionaries have displayed uncommon courage and humanity.
    May all your mission’s be blessed by God.

    Hwa Rang Do Forever!

  12. Hwarang, GrandMaster Lee,
    Thank you for publishing this article, and more for the pictures. Thank you to the Italian team for having the courage and love to go through with this dangerous journey.
    This trip will live in your memories, but as well in the hearts of every one of those children to whom you gave your time and love.
    May we all give to the children around us, every day, for every child is valuable and even in your own city there are children who need our training to strengthen their sense of self and encourage their dignity as people.
    This is indeed what we need to do, and my Italian sisters and brothers make me proud, and humbled, to know I have been given the great opportunity to help them preserve and spread the philosophy of Hwa Rang Do.
    Hwarang Forever!

  13. Instructor MacKnight says:

    I second the comments of Master Kijek. The story touched me deeply. I’m so very proud of the courage and compassion of our Italian brethren. You have certainly demonstrated the essence of what it means to be a true warrior; a Hwarang!

    Scott MacKnight, Hwa Rang Do 4th Dan.

  14. gianluca cicinelli says:

    Hwarang Grand Master Lee, hwarang to every brother and sister in hwarang.
    I’m very proud to have my little part in hwarangdo movement, because the Angola Mission shows the real sense of fighting in the life. To fight every day to find food for poors, to fight to avoid children will die: what belt do we think need people working to save human beings? Hwarang spirit is in the heart and in the mind of our teachers, and we can learn something of that only with training. Training is love, how Grand Master Lee said us last summer in Italy, it is love for life, it is love for justice, it is love for the world. I want to tank my teachers too, Kyosanim Marco Mattiucci and Sum Bae Emanuele Veluti for this example coming us from Angola Mission, because it shows as, step by step, improving ourselves we improve the world.
    Hwarang Forever!

  15. Molina says:

    Thank you for spreading this to the world!

  16. Wow you hit it on the “dot” we may bookmark on Twitter in addition to Hub pages well done Hwa Rang Do’s ‘Angola Experiment’ in the “City of Trash” | Taejoon Lee is cool

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