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Title [Voices of Youth] Willing to Change at Alto Peru

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    191
  • Date
    10-06-2021
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(C) Alto Peru

Edurado Vargas, Elias Aguirre, Johaira Aldazabal


Based on mental health, leadership, and change agents, Alto Peru motivates people to recognize their power to change their lives and community. Sports Therapy is one of their core methodologies, 15 years ago started with Surf and since 2013 Muay Thai. Nowadays they have a community center with a gym, a space where their coaches, their athletes, kids from the community can use to train.



1. EDUARDO VARGAS / Muay Thai coach, athlete and change agent(22)

I have lived in Chorrillos since I was a kid. I lived in one of the toughest areas of Lima, Peru. As I grew up, it was normal to witness complex situations in the neighborhood, such as drug dealing, criminality, and gangs. However, I also lived close to people who were entrepreneurial and wanted to move forward in life.

 

I am the fourth of five children. When I was seven, my parents separated, and I was under the care of my mother. As most kids here, I grew up in a difficult setting. I studied in schools of this area. Elementary school at Maria Inmaculada School and High-School at José de la Riva Agüero School.

 

Being a male in an all-male public school means that you are bound to develop a strong character or be skillful so that nobody passes you over. When I was in school, I always had a talent for sports, and that brought me good friendships. One of those friends was Arturo, who practiced Muay Thai for free at the Alto Peru Project. I decided to go one day to try it out. I was nervous, I had never practiced Muay Thai. I never imagined that this decision would change my life forever. I took my first class with Victor Ccanto, “the teacher”, and at the end, the sport had captured me and has never let me go. Muay Thai at Alto Peru came with new experiences and friends who motivated me to train every afternoon.

 

In the first few years of training, I was still attending school. There were difficult days where I did not have money for the bus ride. I would find a way to get it, or I would walk to Alto Peru to train. My motivation was always stronger.

 

For me, Muay Thai was a way to let go of all that accumulated energy, all the negative emotions, and everything I was not saying. Training at Alto Peru made me feel that I had found something I was good at and where I could achieve great things if I set my mind on it. The goal was clear: I wanted to become one of the best. This is how the fights and tournaments started. They made me feel more and more certain about becoming a professional fighter.

 

The years went by, and I turned 18. At that age, one must start bringing money home. And I could not continue training, as much as I wanted to. I started working at a call center. I felt unhappy, I felt I was wasting my time. I decided to quit and continue training. I moved out and got a place near Alto Peru. I started teaching to get money. It was difficult, but I managed to get settled.

 

My career as a fighter was developing. I defended the title three times, and I got the chance to go to Thailand to fight at the World Tournament. I managed to travel, however, the pandemic postponed all my plans, because the World got cancelled and I had to travel back home.

 

Now I am 22 years old, and I continue on this path. I work at Alto Peru as a change agent in my community. I contribute so that more boys and girls can find opportunities through sports, as I did, and have the mental well being we all need. Who knows, maybe we can win more titles for the neighborhood…

 



2. ELIAS AGUIRRE / Surf coach and change agent(22)


I was born in Lima, Peru, in a district called Chorrillos. When I was a kid, I didn’t know how to swim, but I loved going to the beach. With Mom, we used to go early to enjoy the sea, because as time went by, the beach got full of people and it wasn’t as fun anymore. Everyone in my family had learned swimming from a very early age, but they never liked water as much as I did.

 

The neighborhood of Alto Peru was located very close to where I lived. It was considered a red zone. They started giving surfing lessons to the kids who lived there. I was interested in learning, but I didn´t know how I would, I didn’t know how to swim either. One day, when I was 12 years old, I dared to go and try one class, but since many kids attended, there was no board for me. At first, this was sort of a relief, I didn’t feel ready yet because I had no experience swimming. A while later, at Alto Peru, they started teaching Muay Thai, and the teacher’s brother was my classmate at school.

 

After a while, when I turned 17, I put my interest in surfing aside and decided that I wanted to learn Muay Thai. Since I didn’t have the money to pay for the monthly tuition fee, my aunt helped me out and I run to get enrolled. I trained for a month and then I had no more money to keep going, but I was invited to continue at no cost, as long as I did my best to stay in the project.

 

I continued training for almost 8 months until I met Diego Villarán, the founder of the Alto Peru project. One day, I dared to ask him whether he could teach me to surf. He said yes and invited me to visit his home with the other kids, on the weekend to go down to the beach.

 

I was happy. I had always wanted to learn, and this was my golden opportunity. I went that weekend, and everything changed. I finally could start making my childhood’s dream come true. Diego lent me a surfing board and I couldn’t be more excited.

 

I kept training Muay Thai, but the sea brought emotions I could not explain. Feeling the adrenaline as I stood on the board was very special to me.

 

When I learned surfing, I was invited to teach the other kids in the neighborhood. I loved the idea of teaching what I had learned to someone else. I started to see how, through sports, the way of living of the neighborhood could change. The boys and girls had more tools to socialize, to become a team, and the neighborhood could be safer and more fun.

Surfing changed my life. I started looking at nature in a different way. The things the sea gives you are unique, and I valued the enormous privilege of living close to the beach. Sports helped me in my personal life. If my aunt had not supported me and I hadn’t known the project, I don’t know what would have become of me.

I grew up in a neighborhood where young men my age deal with drugs or are in prison. When you choose the path of sports, you become disciplined. But when you choose sports at Alto Peru, you learn to choose the right path to achieve your goals. And for everything bad, there’s the sea, and for everything good, there’s the sea as well.




3. JOHAIRA ALDAZABAL / Muay Thai coach, architect and change agent(27)

I never liked sports, I never practiced any in my childhood. However, my Grandma always used to tell me that her Dad practiced boxing in his youth. Grandma has always been my role model, she was like a mother to me and one day, everything changed.

She had a stroke and the worries and problems that the situation caused made me feel frustrated and feel the need to escape and find my own space. 

This is how everything started. One day, as I got back from the University, where I was studying Architecture, very close to my home in Chorrillos, I found a poster inviting people to join Muay Thai classes at Alto Peru. This is how, at 22 years of age, I began my story with this sport.

Everything was brand-new to me. Kids younger than me would teach and were great role models after going through tougher experiences than my own. They gave me a very valuable life lesson. I started to go every single day. I talked to Diego Villarán, the Project Director, and he gave me the chance of becoming part of the team.

This is how my adventure in this crazy world of sports started. From that moment on, I tried to get better and better. It was very difficult in the beginning. I have always been the eldest of the team, and, when I started, I was the last to come back from running and the last to finish the drills. My first teacher was Carlos Avilés. He encouraged me to keep training.

Gradually, Muay Thai and Alto Peru became my salvation. It was an incredible journey of self-discovery, of figuring out who I am, of knowing and understanding my limits and my flaws… Of learning how to control myself and working hard to achieve what I want. I found much more than I was looking for. I found a family who has been with me and has supported me for the last five years.

In time, I started competing at national tournaments. In 2017, I was the national Muay Thai Champion and I have had the chance to fight 40 times with great national and international fighters. I also participated in Sanda tournaments at a University level and won the National FEDUP Tournament 2018 and the UTP Cup. Muay Thai gave me the chance to travel to Huaraz and Tacna in Peru, and to Chile.

I am currently a Muay Thai and Functional Training trainer and coach. Sports are part of my daily life. I started as a Coach at the Center, I was in charge of the morning classes, and then I started my work training the youngest.

What Muay Thai has enabled me to do is amazing. Since I started teaching, I have tried to convey those feelings. Teaching is a whole different world. I realized that many people regard sports as their safe space, their shelter. In my classes, I am responsible for making them feel better. When I teach, it is more than teaching. To me, it is about sharing my way of seeing the world.

What can be achieved through sports is amazing. I changed my philosophy of life, and thanks to that, I feel that I can contribute to my environment and help others.


※ Ideas in this writing are the author's own.