Punch, kick and lock- fighting human trafficking with karate

– An interview with ‘In My Defense’

Sometimes all it takes is a little will to put your knowledge into action. When this action is geared towards addressing an issue afflicting the community, it can make a world of difference in someone’s life. That is exactly what Prasadh, 30, is doing through his innovative initiative ‘In My Defense’- bringing a tangible improvement in the quality of life of children and women in South East Asia, who have been victims of human trafficking. The intuitively named initiative has been doing commendable work in promoting self-defense and physical fitness among underprivileged communities. In today’s interview, Prasadh, a Singapore based Market Research Consultant and a black belt in karate, talks about what inspired him to begin this journey as a social entrepreneur and what he aspires to achieve through this initiative. 

Could you tell us a bit about ‘In My Defense’ and its objectives?

In My Defense is a non-profit initiative with the core purpose of driving the awareness and adoption of self-defense amongst communities and NGOs that work against human trafficking.

Various NGOs & informal groups focus their attention towards helping victims & families affected by trafficking issues in various parts of Asia – by way of supporting their basic needs (food, shelter, education), a huge challenge in itself. Some of the NGOs also provide counseling & rehabilitation support for the communities. In this ecosystem, ‘In My Defense’ aims to play the role of providing life skills that everyone should have exposure to, in the form of self-defense workshops based on Karate.

We partner with NGOs/nonprofit organizations in South East Asia that are firmly entrenched in such social causes, and design and develop workshops for the community (typically women or children) that they support.

It is still early days for ‘In My Defense’. With every new opportunity, the initiative gains in clarity and evolves in terms of purpose and structure. Currently, we are looking to expand laterally in terms of partnerships, not only with organizations working on trafficking issues, but also with NGOs and nonprofit organizations tackling other crucial issues such as social development for underprivileged communities, abuse and violence issues, etc. Hence, the workshops are not just aimed at teaching self-defense, but also at providing exposure to physical fitness for youngsters, helping them cultivate self-discipline and learn teamwork and equipping them to channelize their energy in a constructive manner.

What was the motivation to begin this initiative? How did this idea come about?

I have been a student of Karate since 1991, starting in India from the Wado Ryu Karate group in Chennai, and continuing to learn in Singapore since 2001. Once I started working full time as a Market Research Consultant, I wanted to invest some time in Karate. I had been toying with the idea of becoming a trainer or starting a martial arts school for quite some time. By then I had also written a couple of articles on a Singapore based magazine talking about the importance of self-defense and had done some volunteering work for the UN Women, providing market research support for a trafficking related project that they had undertaken. It was then that I decided to put my interest and training in Karate to use in promoting a social cause that had a real impact on the community.

It is indeed interesting how things work out. Could you tell us about the first project that you worked on and has that snowballed into more projects?

In late 2012, by word of mouth I learnt about Riverkids, a nonprofit organization based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which was serving the local community affected by trafficking issues. Within a very short period of time, after discussions with Riverkids, I found myself in Phnom Penh in March 2013 to launch the first project for ‘In My Defense’, by way of 2 workshops for their girls’ camp in Phnom Penh. I’ll be lying if I said this is exactly what I had in mind in terms of launching the initiative, but the truth is that I just seized the first opportunity that came by. But in retrospect, I think I went with the idea because on the one hand I could put my Karate skills and experience to use, and on the other the social initiative angle resonated strongly deeply with my personal interest and convictions.

Since its inception, ‘In My Defense’ has partnered with a number of organizations:

– Riverkids Project, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (March 2013)
– Bali Children’s Project, Bali, Indonesia (June 2013)
– UN Women / National Junior College students initiative, Singapore (August 2013)
– Blue Dragon Foundation, Hanoi, Vietnam (September 2013)
– UN Women / THK Family Service Centre, Singapore (October 2013)

Considering the novelty of the initiative, how has the reaction been so far? 

All organizations have responded extremely well to the workshop, as it is a great way to build confidence and self-discipline. Sustainability & innovation are the 2 primary growth enablers for ‘In My Defense’. I am now in the midst of discussions with these organizations to regularize the workshops, and customize the content to the needs of the local communities.

I’m sure there are exciting times ahead. What are your plans for the future?

In my defense, there is no such thing as too much experience! The initiative will continue to learn and strive to better, forward.

Grassroots is proud to partner with ‘In My Defense’ on a ‘Health & Fitness’ workshop for children in Singapore, to create awareness about hygiene and healthy living and promote physical fitness through karate. Watch this space for updates on the workshop and details on the training modules that we have developed for this initiative.

Prasadh can be contacted at B3299252@e.ntu.edu.sg

Interview conducted and edited by Karthik for Grassroots