Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Ex-soldier on a mission to groom children

The adage “It takes a village to raise a child” may be very much alive in Ramotswa.

A petite woman, Brilliant Bothe-Matenge, almost every week-day, walks into the Tswelelopele Brigade Centre Hall in Ramotswa whose door faces the consecrated cemetery grounds to the north of the village – historically the citadel of die-hard Catholics.

On this particular Wednesday, she held the hand of her small five-year-old girl Abigail, around half-past four in the afternoon, joining other mothers together with not-so-young children into a predisposed martial arts hall which also doubles as a student hall.

She got herself and little Abigail hand-sanitized in adherence to the Covid-19 protocols before jotting down her daughter’s name in the book register by the hall entrance desk replete with a digital thermometer and an alcohol-based sanitizer as Abigail’s peers innocently and sheepishly donned their karate attires.

This is a place which seeks to instill discipline amongst children of this community found about 30 kilometres south of the capital Gaborone to avert, by all means, chances of them being trapped into societal ills and grow them into responsible citizens.   

It is here where children, boys and girls, some as young as four are taught discipline through a karate club known as Nayoth, owned and headed by Sensei Lucas Rakgampu.

It didn’t begin so long ago. The noble idea was mooted a few months shortly before the first lockdown of April 2020 when Botswana found herself having to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic which has, and still does, affect nations across the globe indiscriminately.  

“She used to be a little naughty girl. She attends pre-school at Seboko Primary School. With few options at my disposal, I was lucky to land into a Facebook post from a friend. It made me re-think I needed to get her through this ritual. So, I hauled her in. The results of the past few months, though interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been remarkable. She isn’t up to her previous naughty escapades anymore. She’s now a responsible disciplined little girl,” quipped Bothe-Matenge.

Bothe-Matenge is least bothered by the P50 (about 5 dollars) joining fee she had to pay nor is she worried about the monthly P100 (about 10 dollars) contribution she parts with monthly to see to it that her child gets training at Nayoth Karate Club.

Inside the hall, little Abigail chanted “oss”, in an almost religious and synchronized ritual along with other somewhat disciples of Sensei Rakgampu as he warmed them up to what would later become a one-and-a-half-hour relatively strenuous training exercise.  

Oss apparently means to push, or to suffer. It symbolizes the importance of pushing, striving and persevering while suffering through whatever difficulties, pains and hindrances that are encountered along the way.

Nayoth Karate Club got the blessings of the Ga-Malete Tribal Authority in Ramotswa under the able leadership of Kgosi Mosadi Seboko who recommended the club owner to Tswelelopele Brigade Centre. The institution responded with a hall offering at no financial cost to the club.

“When they [Nayoth Karate Club] presented their proposal to develop children through martial arts, we really appreciated it…. more so that we felt it would help curb societal ills and instill discipline amongst our young community members. We felt we had a social corporate responsibility as an institution to come to the party,” said Tswelelopele Brigade Centre Deputy Principal Moemedi Mmekwane.

He further said: “The success of the sporting club will obviously improve our image as an institution and that of Nayoth Karate Club in this collaboration.”

Sensei Rakgampu, and they don’t call him that for nothing, is a Fifth Dan black belt holder trained in Japan, who wants to see the club producing at least ten black belt trainees together with five athletes to compete nationally.

His priority at the moment, and he has many other bigger plans at that, is to groom his charges in the next three to four months in basic training to prepare them for grading.

A referee accredited with the Union of African Karate Association and a member of the Botswana Karate Association Referees Commission, what worries Sensei Rakgampu the most is that he may, despite all the energy he may put into his pet project, be unable to compete nationally or internationally.

“We can’t compete within the auspices of the World Karate Federation without approved equipment,” he regretted. Rakgampu said Nayoth needs, as a matter of urgency, a tatami (a rush-covered straw mat forming a traditional Japanese floor covering), gloves, body protectors, sheen pads and face masks.

Nayoth Karate Club continues to register multitudes of prospective trainees almost every day with the numbers currently standing at 36 from a pre-Covid-19 lockdown record of 50 members. Rakgampu is optimistic though that the numbers will grow above 50 in the coming weeks and plans to divide classes in accordance with the Covid-19 regulations and protocols.

Rakgampu maintains a relationship with parents regarding the welfare of children under his tutelage at all times. If he notices signs of sickness, he immediately calls parents. If a child absconds from training for no apparent reason, he immediately asks the parent what may seem to be the problem.

“I constantly tell parents to teach their children about time management to balance their academic work and that which is expected of them at Nayoth to instill discipline and I’m so far happy with the numerous responses I get from parents,” said Rakgampu.

Nayoth has prophetic connotations which Rakgampu the pastor borrowed from his theological leanings. In fact, he first started a similar club in Letlhakane near Orapa Mine and successfully hosted Letlhakane Open tournament in 2015 which saw Zambia participate.

With the advent of the Covid-19, Rakgampu is saddened that he was unable to take his new charges at Nayoth Karate Club to the “Fallen Heroes” tournament in Zambia which was billed for September last month. Yet the man affectionately known as “Boston” in Ramotswa doesn’t seem to despair.

For now, Sensei Rakgampu hopes corporate and individual partners will join him catch them young to build a better society.

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