For much of the last 20 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been mired in armed conflict. And it’s often been children doing the fighting. Thousands have been recruited as child soldiers over the years; an issue the United Nations called “endemic” in 2013. However, Balezi Bagunda (Kibomango) wants to show them another way. Bagunda, a former child soldier, became the country’s boxing champion in 2008. Now he and other ex-soldiers teach the sport to street children in Goma.
“The recruiters promise you money, women and lasting gratitude,” he told photographer William Dupuy. “But the only thing you find in the forest is death, hunger and hell. I know; I experienced it.”
“Our country has abandoned its children, but I haven’t,” said Bagunda, who goes by his boxing name Kibomango. “I am like them, a street child, but everyone knows me as the champion of champions. It gives the kids some hope of being something other than a shégué (a term for street children in Goma).”
Dupuy visited the school in 2015 and photographed what they call the “Friendship Club.”
Kibomango was Congo’s boxing champion in 2008. The former child soldier lost his left eye to shrapnel. “His physique is like his life,” photographer William Dupuy said. “Violent, scarred and rough.”
The training sessions at Goma’s “Friendship Club” give the children confidence. They are often orphans, Dupuy said.
Training sessions are held at 6 a.m. at a stadium on the edge of a slum. They are open to everyone. Those who show up late have to do five laps around the stadium field. There are also people who just show up to watch. “People who don’t train but watch make the most of my advice, too,” Kibomango said. “They listen, and maybe tomorrow you’ll find them sweating along with us.”