by Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Two young boys in boxing gloves energetically exchange blows in front of a cheering group.
Despite their young age, they all have a burning desire to become world-class fighters.
The kids are from Mbare, a poor high-density settlement south of downtown Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
Their instructor, renowned boxer Zvenyika Arifonso -- a Commonwealth Games champion -- said that by training kids from poor backgrounds, he hopes to nurture another world champion from an underprivileged background.
Known as "Mosquito" in boxing circles owing to his slim body and his combat skills on the ring -- Arifonso has groomed several accomplished boxers in Zimbabwe.
"There are several boxers who passed through my hands, who are doing their own things, but they are doing it well in the boxing fraternity," said Arifonso.
One of his students, 24-year-old Antony Mapako, is eager to follow his master's footsteps.
"As a boxer who is not yet a professional boxer, I can see myself in the next 5 years raising the flag of Zimbabwe like what Mosquito did," he told Xinhua.
In 1998 Arifonso beat Paul Weir from Scotland and won the Commonwealth title in Glasgow.
However, despite his early accomplishments in his career, today Arifonso has little to show for his fame. Nevertheless, he remains steadfast in pursuing his goal of creating another world champion from Zimbabwe.
While the idea of teaching kids to fight to keep them out of trouble may seem counter-intuitive, Arifonso said even a combat sport such as boxing can be used as a way of teaching discipline and teamwork among children.
He added that boxing can be used as a means to let young men take out their frustrations through sport rather than crime or violence.
"The advantage of coming to boxing is it instills discipline and dignity because we will be teaching the children how to live with the community. We teach the children how to get respect from others, it's not about violence, it's not about going and harming other people because you are training," he said.
Apart from cultivating discipline and confidence in children, Arifonso said sport can keep youngsters away from social novices rampant in the community.
Lack of activities for youngsters in poor settlements like Mbare means children spend their spare time on roadsides, which brings them to bad company, he said.
"This is the way of keeping children out of bad things, committing crimes, womanizing -- because when a child goes home when he is tired, he needs to sleep and wake up tomorrow," he said.
As one of the impoverished townships of Harare, crime, drug abuse and prostitution is rampant, and many young promising lives are being ruined.
"Children, they are losing their lives, going on drugs, some they are becoming prostitutes, some they are becoming addicted to drugs, and some they will become thieves," he said.
For girls such as 15-year-old Tinotenda Mazuru, what attracts them to boxing is the urge to break gender stereotypes.
"I am doing this sport because I want to be a professional boxer, and try to show people that women can do better than what you see in the world," she said.
Learning self-defense also makes the sport attractive to young women.
"Boxing can make women defend themselves, learn discipline, not only to be judged," Mazuru said.
While boxing is seen as a viable way of keeping young people off the streets, the funding of the sport in Zimbabwe remains a challenge, which means professional boxers will still need to have other side hustles to put food on the table.