Comic Relief UK funds eight projects across South America, with three in Brazil. In the Complexo da Maré, a sprawling area of 17 of the poorest favelas in Rio, I visit another of these projects, Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace), a charity that uses boxing and martial arts to help release the potential of some of the most disadvantaged young people in the country. Set up in 2000 by Londoner Luke Dowdney, a former amateur boxer, the Fight For Peace Academy teaches much more than just boxing. Children learn how to access education, find jobs and join mentoring schemes too. 'This is a community divided by drug factions and violence,' says Dowdney. 'Fight for Peace offers them a way out of poverty and an alternative to crime.'
I watch as the youngsters go through their steps in the gym, training with punchbags
and sit-ups, determination etched on their
faces. Thayson Amarante, 16, who won a gold medal at flyweight level in the Brazilian Boxing Championships 2011, tells me how Fight for Peace has affected his life. With his mother often disappearing on drinking binges and his father unemployed, spending time on the streets and frequent violence were a way of life before he signed up. 'Coming here has changed everything. Boxing is about discipline and respect, it makes you calmer and has given me more pride in myself. But the project helps so many people, not just those who might go on to fight professionally.'
Indeed, Fight for Peace has helped 6,000 children in Rio to date and new satellite projects have just been set up in neighbouring favelas. 'Without the funding from Comic Relief we wouldn't be able to do these new projects,' says Dowdney. The model proved so successful, a London academy opened in 2007 and the idea is being replicated in ten countries around the world from Ghana to the US.