One young boy in Mexico embodies the spirit of the Sport Is Your Gang projects: he went from being selling drugs for a criminal gang to teaching muaythai and living a clean life thanks to the support of the Mexican project.

The Sport Is Your Gang projects operate in areas where children face difficult situations, and the same principle applies whether that’s in Mexico, Switzerland or America. This principle is muaythai can be a community for them,  the regular discipline for turning up for free classes can lead to a healthy lifestyle. The children are offered a gang which supports and mentors them to a life away from trouble.

In Mexico Tonio* first came to the attention of coaches working with Sport Is Your Gang as a young boy whose parents were never around for him.  His two teenage sisters both had children of their own and no time for their kid brother. He spent his days robbing shops or taking drugs himself and hanging out with people who offered only more of the same.

Giovanna Mondragon, director of the programme says: “The classes offered him a way out. Now he is teaching muaythai to other kids. I wish every kid we have could be like Tonio, that would be my dream situation.”

The Mexican project works with 250 groups  – about 3,000 children, and also supports projects in Honduras and Los Angeles. Part of an umbrella of groups including partner The Women’s Foundation also set up by Elisa Salinas (in picture below), sports coaches are trained in application of the Resilience Theory, and the concept of “Nonflict” developed by Dr Amir Kfir – so they learn how to interact on an emotional level with the children.

“We are mentors for them. I think if the classes were about finding good muaythai athletes, it would be limiting. They are getting something else; sport brings them friends, a community and role-models. The coach is someone who believes in them,” Giovanna says.

The coaches take signs announcing free classes in parks and public spaces set aside by the government for under-privileged kids. They work in prisons and in other state institutions – donating their time for the reward of seeing kids take another road. And that makes all the difference.

She says: “We have to deal with a lot of stuff, sometimes the kids only come for a few classes so you have to focus on what you can achieve.

“The kids might come for six weeks, a few months so we have to know what we can achieve for them in that time. We’ve been here for four years, we want to be here forever.”

Learn more about the Mexican SIYG project here.

Read about other SIYG projects run by IFMA federations here.

(Images @siygamericas on Instagram)