Chris Pugmire’s Judo Kids in Senegal

We’re lucky enough to count many talented types among our friends. One of these is photographer Christopher Pugmire, who, in his words, takes nice photos of interesting people.

Christopher scans the world to find interesting characters, taking shots that turn the everyday, hard-working, fun-loving, weird, and wonderful into something quite beautiful. He captures great images that tell moving stories of people’s lives that would otherwise go largely unnoticed. In short: we love his work.

When Christopher was in St. Louis, Senegal, he met Cheikh Oumar Fall, who runs Judo Club Fall Ababacar. The Club is open to all local children, which includes talibés – street kids forced to beg for religious reasons.

Christopher’s always looking for people doing something a little different, and he was quickly fascinated by the dojo. Sport is very important in Senegal, but judo’s not so common. Oumar gave Christopher permission to take photos of the kids, the gym, and himself.Aliou, Mouhamed, Moustapha & Abdoulaye“As I started photographing, Oumar would shout and the kids all lined up proper military style,” explains Christopher. The dojo offers these kids a structure and discipline that they may not have anywhere else in their lives.

Humility is central to the Senegalese talibé culture; the religious teachers known as marabouts require the children to beg for money on the streets. “These street kids are often out for 10 hours a day, and if they don’t bring back a certain amount of money, they get beaten or don’t get fed. For them to come to a place like this is very important, where they can hang out and do sports.”Judo Club Fall Ababacar

The dojo itself is “pretty rough and ready. Like, rusty train wheels will literally be the weights. There are 10 uniforms for the kids to swap around.”

Yet it’s enough for them to train to competition level. The kids fromJudo Club Fall Ababacar took home a heap of medals on a national level just a few weeks back: “Despite its roughness, it’s one of the best schools in the country.”

MoustaphaWhen I saw his photos, the wrinkled white uniforms jumped out at me in contrast against the pink and green of the floor mats. The kids look directly into the camera. My favourite is this boy with dinner plates for eyes, inviting you to consider his space, his story.

His name is Moustapha Mboup. He’s one of the talibé kids.

oumarOumar himself is “over 100 kilos of pure muscle! He’s a 6’3” barn door. He looks very scary, but he’s quite gentle.”

The bulk of Oumar’s training took place in Rabat, Morocco. He competed at international level with the Senegalese squad and the pan-African squad. His father is a legend in Senegal, a true champion judoka.

Oumar grew sick of the conditions that the talibé kids lived in, and he decided to give up international competition to make a difference. He now works with a local association, Association Espoir des enfants de la rue.

Two judokaI asked Christopher how the kids reacted to his camera. “Well, they’re just kids, aren’t they? At first, they’re really shy, and then they open up and they’re all over the place.”

Generally, Europeans with cameras in Senegal are regarded with distrust: “They yell ‘Vous allez nous vendre’ [You’re going to sell us] – that happens a lot. A lot of the western people there don’t really interact with the locals, because they are afraid of being ripped off. But they also just wanna get their photos, and then they wanna leave with their photos.”

So Christopher printed out the best of his shots and brought them back to share with the dojo the next day. Photos are very popular in image-conscious Senegal, but “not many people have got smartphones, and it’s quite expensive to get a print. They cost about 500 of their francs, which is about a euro – that’s a lot of money for someone who makes 3-4 euro a day.”

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As such, the prints are “sort of a co-project with the kids. They get photos of themselves plus money to train.” The proceeds go towards keeping the dojo up and running. Judo takes time, money, and good nutrition; 50€ from selling one print is enough to put five children in training up to competition level.

We just loved this project – we’re all about celebrating what’s unique about absolutely everyone. See further photos on Chris’ site just here.

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