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Hoops for Humanity Want to Get Refugee Children Hula-Hooping

11 April 18 interview: Chloe Campbell

Hoops for Humanity aims to help refugee children have fun while gaining confidence and determination through hula hooping. This year, they are planning a trip to a number of refugee camps in Greece where they will run workshops and distribute hula hoops to the children. Our Chloe chats to Rochene Johnston, who reveals why she first got involved in hooping, how it changed her life and what her plans are for the future of the charity.

Can you tell us about Hoops for Humanity?
Project Hoop set up Hoops for Humanity in 2017 to help refugee children. This year, we are raising funds to travel to refugee camps in Greece and give hula hoop workshops to the children there. We are collecting and creating a stockpile of hoops to take over with us, which will be donated to the camps so that the children can continue to use them after we have left. We know that Hoops for Humanity will not solve the refugee crisis in Greece, but we are certain it will help the children who are caught up in it. It will put a smile on their faces, as it allows them to truly be children and leaves them feeling determined and confident, with all the hoops they need to continue learning and having fun.

We have had many hula hoopers and hoop communities respond to our project in such a positive way. Hoops and money are being donated and help is being given. Fundraisers are also due to take place in York – Jen Parry, founder of High Hoops - and in Birmingham – Michela Hoops, co-founder of HoopHoopHoop. People have been very generous; our GoFundMe page has generated funds to help get us - and the hoops - over to Greece and into the camps. We also have the Free Movement Skateboarding group on board, who teach skateboarding to refugee children, which helps to improve their physical and mental wellbeing as well as their social skills and confidence. They will be supporting and helping us out by enabling us to run our workshops alongside our own.

So, how and when did Project Hoop originate?
I set up Project Hoop last year, when I decided to take my teaching experience and qualifications in a different direction; by day I work part-time as an English lecturer, and by night, I teach and perform hula hoop.

I named Project Hoop after Fight Club’s Project Mayhem, as I train every day, and am very dedicated and determined. When I started out, I would have nasty bruises and swellings - yeah and hooping is weak, right!? I was turning up to my former job looking like I had been in a fight. Down on life, and feeling underappreciated in my career, I was Rochene’s raging frustration, her complete lack of surprise. I used to think to myself, this is my hoop club, Project Hoop. That’s when I started Hoops for Humanity, which is about taking hooping to those less fortunate and this year I am concentrating on refugees.

You mentioned that you’re taking Hoops for Humanity to Greece in the near future—what are your plans for this trip?
Hoops for Humanity will start in Greece; I fly out in April, and will be doing back-to-back workshops with refugee children, working with organisations including Camp Eleonas, Plaza Squat, Secours Islamique France, Khora, and Velos refugee youth service.

As I mentioned, we’ve teamed up with Free Movement Skateboarding, a permanent group who teach skateboarding to refugee kids. The guys have helped me plan my trip and are putting us up for the duration of my time in Greece. The skateboarders get many men coming to learn whereas the women in refugee communities are not really involved; I believe hooping may provide something for them to get involved in. In addition to fundraising for this project, I have also stockpiled and sent over eighty hula hoops, so that the camps, charities and organisations I visit over there, can keep and use them to practice.

I’m doing this to show them something new and to give them a positive outlet. Young refugees are trapped, they have nowhere to go, little opportunities and are stuck in a system that holds them firmly; their futures look uncertain and bleak. For many children in squats and camps, life is unstable and they live in limbo. Camps and organisations are always looking for activities and hobbies to do with them that are practical, accessible and healthy. Hooping will give them the opportunity to do something fun, escape inwards, learn something new, show off what they have learned, and believe in themselves. It is an activity they can practice and share with others.

How did you get involved in hooping? From what you've experienced, what are the benefits of circus activities and hooping?
I started hooping in September 2015 when a friend who was doing it suggested it to me. I started and was immediately hooked. At this time in my life, I was experiencing abuse and ill health and was struggling to cope. Hooping gave me a way to escape what was going on around me, which in turn helped me to develop the determination to learn and the focus I needed. Hours of practice, tears, frustration and pain all paid off in the end. Being able to see myself progress and master things I thought were impossible, made me believe in myself; it made me stronger, physically and mentally. Hooping keeps you healthy, it’s fun, builds muscle, improves confidence and incorporates elements of circus and dance. Hooping also helps to improve your coordination which, as someone who has dyspraxia and dyslexia, is highly valuable. I can’t recommend it enough, it saved me, which is why I know it will help others.

Can you tell us anymore about what's planned for the project in Nottingham?
This is something I am trying to organise with the refugee forum. We are currently talking about doing it with their women’s group, and I am trying to set one up for kids. Funding is the biggest issue, I am applying for my own funding, and am on the hunt for other sources.

How can people donate/help/volunteer and generally get involved with Project Hoop?
People can donate money through my GoFundMe page, hoops4humanity, or, if you have a venue in Nottingham, you could let us hire it. If anyone knows of any funds that we could qualify for, or of any sponsors who can help, please do get in touch! We have previously held fundraisers in Birmingham and York, so if you want to hold one for us, please get in touch, too.

I also run regular classes at The Lenton Centre on Wednesday evenings, and a class at the QMC for NHS students and employees, Tuesdays 4-5pm.

For more information, get in touch with Rochene at [email protected], and make sure to visit her GoFundMe page.

Hoops for Humanity website

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