Article: Jenni Evans, News24
Cape Town – Ceres policeman and karate expert Andries Douglas has struck on a novel way of getting youth to read in their spare time. He teaches them karate for free, and in exchange they must read a book he and his wife give them. And “Renshi” (teacher of teachers) Douglas takes the barter agreement a step further: to grade to the next belt, each child in the class has to tell him what the book is all about to prove that it has been read. He calls it the “Reading for Life” programme and he credits his wife Eugenie with the idea. Whenever he can, he gets on to his motorbike and travels to remote farms outside Ceres to teach farmworkers’ children the ancient martial art, along with his wife. He gives them their karate lesson, and then they get a new book to read. The smaller children only have to read one book to grade, but the older children have a heavier reading load as they get closer to the coveted black belt, he explains. The teenagers have to sit with the younger children and help them practice their reading, as one of their conditions for grading.
Short of books
Mothers in the area are already on board, helping their children with their reading, and the couple also packs books they know the moms would like to read. “They are desperately short of books and looking for something new to read when we get there,” says Douglas. “They love those romance novels,” he laughs. When a mother finishes a book, it goes to her friends, and is returned well-thumbed when the Douglas couple returns with their next reading stash. Douglas believes karate is a great way to teach discipline. In the Ceres valley however, not many people have the cash to spend on extra-murals for their children. “People say discipline begins at home. I don’t agree. Because many children these days don’t have a home. “And many children now get everything that they want. They are effectively disciplining their parents to do things for them,” he says.
Without somebody to teach them discipline, children will grow up to be people who do not know how to take instructions at work, and they will get into trouble, and get fired, is his theory. He has, by request, used karate as an intervention for school children on the verge of delinquency. The results have been astounding. He watches the children come out of their cocoons as he coaxes the precise moves of the graceful art from them. They do their katas (movements) in whatever they are wearing, under trees, or among the orchards where their parents work. “Here in South Africa we seem to think that you can only do karate in a hall. For me, the dojo can be anywhere. It’s not all about rugby and soccer. There are so many other arts to help with discipline and wellness.”
Breakfast with Obama
In his dojo many of the children do not have karate clothes, but that does not matter. He has helped rehabilitate criminals with the discipline, and runs an anger management course for adult men. One of Douglas’s proudest moments was when he was invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. with US President Barack Obama. He won a double gold at the Martial Arts games in Canada and had spent some time travelling in the US to learn more about volunteer work.