The Denizen Project
denizen: noun \ˈde-nə-zən\ 1. an inhabitant of a particular place, e.g.'denizens of field and forest'
Zen: noun \ˈzen\ 1. a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism 2. an approach that emphasises intuition over conventional thinking
The Denizen Project cultivates ecological stewardship through immersive, science-based environmental education and the disciplines of yoga and capoeira. By developing self-confidence, creativity, and an empathy for wildlife through animal-inspired movements, children learn to become caretakers for their biosphere and its denizens.
ABOUT THE DENIZEN PROJECT
What is Capoeira?
A martial art developed by African slaves brought to Brazil, capoeira is thought to be about 500 years old. It is the only known martial art executed to music. Some historians believe that the rhythmic movements of capoeira were used by slaves to disguise their martial training as a benign dance to fool their Portuguese captors.
Today, capoeira is played by two people who engage in a corporal conversation in a roda, a circle of people who sing, clap and play instruments. The music commands the tempo and energy of the game, which is played with a series of kicks and escapes. When executed by skilled capoeiristas, the game is a moving jigsaw puzzle of precise configurations that is a thrill to behold.
Click here to see more capoeira.
The Denizen Project was founded by Monica 'Cigana' Szczupider and Gaurav 'Macaco' Pawar in 2015.
The programme's interdisciplinary approach, with tactile and age-appropriate science experiments, ecology lessons, and yoga and capoeira classes, combines the professional experiences of Monica and Gaurav. Monica brings ten years in conservation education (predominantly in the nonprofit sector) to The Denizen Project. She holds a yoga teaching certification from The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, the oldest academic yoga institution in the world, and has completed professional development courses with Roots and Shoots, the conservation education arm of The Jane Goodall Institute. Gaurav has spent the last fifteen years immersed in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. He has been teaching the art form to children and adults for eight years and has completed capoeira training seminars in Brazil and Israel. He also incorporates music lessons, both instrumental and vocal, into his capoeira classes.
What is Yoga?
Most people associate yoga with flexibility. After all, how many times have you heard someone say the following?
"I don't do yoga because you have to twist yourself into a pretzel."
But the ancient texts (~400 CE) that form the backbone yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, comprise 196 aphorisms. Only three of these aphorisms are about asanas, or the physical postures of yoga. So what else is yoga about?
The Yamas and Niyamas, for instance, are a collection of dos and don'ts to help a yogi live a balanced life. They are the same code of ethics you find in other philosophies. Be honest. Don't harm others. Practise simplicity. In addition to these tenets, the Yoga Sutras espouse Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (going inward), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (enlightenment).
Click here to see more yoga.
Capoeira in Meyene (2017)
The Denizen Project has held classes in many places in the world, but perhaps the most significant 12-week programme took place with the school kids of Meyene. Meyene is a small village in eastern Cameroon, a beautiful and diverse country located on the west coast of Africa. Like the kids of Meyene, capoeira (or perhaps an earlier version of the art) hails from West Africa, but the exact location of its origin remains unknown.
The children of Meyene are neighbours to a much loved chimpanzee conservation project located on the rim of the Congo basin. The local ecosystem teems with wildlife: chimpanzees, monkeys and pangolins all make their homes in the area. While many of the local faunal denizens are endangered, pressing conservation issues are not the only obstacles saddling the region. 48% of Cameroon's population lives at or below the global poverty line, and many of the children in and around Meyene stop attending school once their primary levels are completed (and sometimes even before that). Unfortunately, this trajectory is not unique to the children of this particular area. Meyene is just one village in one province in one country on one continent. We believe that all kids deserve more options. We also believe that environmental issues are humanitarian issues. Understanding and abiding by this notion is the only way to move forward in conservation.
The Denizen Project is committed to creating programmes that inspire children towards creativity, environmental stewardship and further learning. By exploring creative expressions of the body, whilst incorporating the tenets of yoga and capoeira, children build their self-confidence and unearth their power – two crucial ingredients to becoming a responsible citizen of the earth.
Working in the non-profit sector in her adopted home of Hawai`i, Monica has been a teacher for both the Honolulu Zoo Society and The Hawaii`i Nature Center, teaching from conservation-based curricula. Traveling in the off-season, she completed three commitments at Cameroon's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue, researched captive male chimp aggression for Emory University, authored a thesis on chimpanzee conflict and resolution at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa, and has been involved with the (non-human) primates at projects such as the Honolulu Zoo, Chimps, Inc. (Bend, OR), The Primate Trust (Goa, India), and FAZOONIC, the only wildlife rescue center in Nicaragua, to name a few. (Click here to meet some of these primates.)
Monica graduated from The Yoga Institute's teacher training course in 2014, the world's oldest Ashtanga yoga academy (in Mumbai, India). She began her capoeira journey in 2011 with Capoeira Besouro Hawai`i, under Mestre Kinha, a native of Rio de Janeiro.
A freelance writer and photographer, Monica's work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic and Sanctuary Asia, India's most widely-circulated conservation magazine.
Gaurav Macaco Pawar hails from the neighbourhood of Dadar, smack dab in the heart of Bombay (Mumbai). Growing up an active child in a busy city, Gaurav spent his childhood moving: jumping off of trucks, vaulting over walls, and, of course, honing his Bollywood dance moves. But he had no idea what was in store for him once capoeira entered his life.
In 2005, at the age of 18, Gaurav encountered the Brazilian martial art when he met his future teacher, a man who had trained capoeira in Israel under Mestre Cueca with the group Cordão de Ouro. Soon after, Gaurav received the nickname which became the moniker he nearly always goes by: Macaco.
As one of the first students of Cordão de Ouro in Mumbai, Macaco filled his life with capoeira, but somehow managed to squeeze in a degree in Psychology from Bhavan's College at the University of Mumbai. Recommitting to capoeira full-time after completing university, Macaco has traveled internationally to attend capoeira events, including the art form's homeland of Brazil. He has also been featured in print and digital media, including TIme Out Mumbai, The Times of India, and most notably alongside his capoeira comrades and Bollywood superstar Hritik Roshan.
A gifted dancer with an ear for rhythm, Macaco appreciates Cordão de Ouro's fluid style and comes alive playing the berimbau, the central instrument in capoeira. He has been teaching capoeira to children and adults for eight years.