After many years of war, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo had to rebuild their country and Balezi Bagunda in his own small way chose to do this with boxing.
Setting up his small boxing training centre in Goma, a small town in DR Congo, Balezi says he hopes to help the outcasts of society rightly channel their energy.
Balezi Bagunda, now popularly known as Kibomango is a one eyed man in charge of the ‘Friendship Club’ boxing arena.
While growing up, Balezi had to join the military at the tender age of 17 as the only means of survival. To him, joining the military meant, ‘I could be strong and untouchable. I worked with President Mobutu at the time and life was really good.’ After joining the military, Balezi had a good life, he got married and had two beautiful children.
However, the unrest in Rwanda caused an overspill to DR Congo and this saw Balezi losing many of his military friends to the war. He had to discard his military uniform and go into hiding.
‘I had to run away, otherwise I will be killed like many of my friends. My children at the time had to live with their friends and they dare not tell anyone I was their father, because then they would be killed as well.’
This was how Kibomango, ended up in Goma with nothing except the clothes on his back. He hustled around and would usually beg people for money. Balezi pleaded and was allowed to sleep in the Goma stadium, but his past experience as a military man, quickly got around and he was drafted into a militia group leaving him with no choice.
With this group, Balezi narrates his experience saying, ‘I had to fight the military, the very people I was a part of before. It was during one of such attacks that an airstrike happened. A chip entered my eye and that eye could not be saved, so I lost it and it was during this same airstrike that I also hurt my leg.’
Following this incident, Balezi Bagunda, officially quit the militia group and headed back to Goma to continue his life. Now, back in the stadium, the young lad decided to follow his first true love and passion, boxing.
He would organise a group of boys and girls and offer them free boxing lessons. He did this to take them off the streets and to give them a purpose aside fighting and joining militia groups.
Kibomango’s ‘Friendship Club’ is no play area as it is made up of the likes of former child soldiers, current soldiers, girls and anyone and everyone one who has the passion to try boxing.
10 years after their separation, Balezi had the opportunity to reunite with his children. ‘When we met it was an emotional moment. The younger child just broke down in tears and started crying so much. My oldest daughter did not show she was crying. She was only short of words and kept saying, ‘Papa, papa, papa.’ It was very emotional for me.’
Balezi Bagunda trains with his people for two hours each morning after which he goes on to his day job as a mechanic. He has through his job, saved up enough money and has taken his girls back to school in a bid to give them a better life.
One of them is just about bagging her diploma, while the other has taken after her father and shown great interest in boxing.