Taekwondo for positive social change, one kick at a time

Youths undergoing Taekwondo classes in Adjumani. Photo: Heidi Lehto


In the heart of Adjumani, Palorinya, Palabek, Rwamwanja, and Kyangwali refugee settlements, a new sports and life skills initiative was introduced to support youth resilience. With the generous funding from the US Department of State for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) to the CORE (Community-led Opportunities for Recovery & Empowerment) project, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is paving the way for transformation through Taekwondo for adolescent peer educators, who cascade their learnings to other refugee and host community children.


The daily stressors of protracted displacement can have detrimental effects on the well-being of children and adolescents. In LWF-supported refugee settlements, the youth are discovering their inner strength and confidence through the disciplined practice of Taekwondo. Embodying the core values of honesty, respect, and discipline, the activity is not just about mastering martial arts but about nurturing holistic development.


Led by dedicated instructors, these sessions transcend mere physical activity; they instill a sense of self-worth, bodily integrity, compassion and social cohesion among youth. Raising awareness on, and promoting children's rights to bodily integrity also reduces children's vulnerability to being victims of sexual violence. This is especially necessary in refugee settlements, where the prevalence of forced marriages, child abuse, and sexual harassment is alarming.


The syllabus, meticulously designed to foster growth and resilience, takes participants on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. From the basics of Taekwondo to advanced training, the program instills the five tenets of Taekwondo: respect, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. Therefore, Taekwondo for Positive Social Change aims to empower adolescents through rigorous training, literacy programs, and uplifting spiritual sessions.

So far, 250 adolescents, including 15 teenage mothers, participated in Taekwondo training sessions led by an international Taekwondo master, Badru. Beyond mastering self-defense techniques, participants honed their self-esteem, public speaking skills, and stress management strategies. Individual counseling sessions were also provided to those facing psychosocial difficulties, nurturing a supportive environment for growth and healing.


One participant shared her transformational journey, recounting how the program helped her overcome deep-rooted conflicts and find peace within herself. Another participant, formerly plagued by a short temper, discovered a newfound sense of calm and happiness through Taekwondo.

The impact of the program extends beyond the dojo. With the establishment of a community library offering resources on good parenting, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, the youth have tools to bring change in their families and communities: “The positive parenting book we read was the best, we will bring up a generation of gentle people,” shared one of the teenage mothers in Palorinya.

Through Taekwondo, the adolescents in these settlements are writing their own stories of resilience, strength, and hope. With each session, they prove that no challenge is too great, no dream too distant, and no obstacle too daunting to overcome.


As the project expands its reach, its vision of creating positive, safe environments for marginalized communities shines ever brighter. With each belt earned, the Taekwondo for Positive Social Change project reaffirms the transformative power of martial arts in fostering youth empowerment, and holistic wellbeing. In the settlements, the journey of empowerment continues, one kick at a time.