Olympic fencer Daryl Homer went to prison to coach young offenders

Daryl Homer teaches fencing to juvenile prisoners
Daryl Homer teaches fencing to juvenile prisoners

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Story highlights

  • Fencing athlete Daryl Homer made a visit to Senegal's juvenile prisons
  • The West African country is piloting an unusual program
  • Homer read about the program in a CNN article

(CNN)US Olympian Daryl Homer paid a surprise visit to Senegal's state penitentiary to teach young offenders how to fence.

The Rio silver medalist coached juveniles and street children during his trip to the West African country.
    "I grew up in the Bronx," said the two-time Olympic medalist. "But this was a totally different experience. It was my first time in a prison. It was my first time seeing young people in a prison. I started in a program that used fencing as means to give children opportunity, and to better their lives," he told CNN.
    Orphaned street children and incarcerated youths aged 13 to 17 are being taught to fence in twice weekly classes in a program run by Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and partner ASE. They aim to rehabilitate and improve prisoners' self esteem by providing access to the sport.
    Homer said he was inspired to fly to Senegal after reading about the program in a CNN article.
    "Sport transcends language," he said "We talked about how sports can be empowering especially how analytical fencing is as a sport," he added. "You have to feel what your opponents are doing. A lot of it is feeling and thinking - it's a very controlled pressure."
    Visiting the continent for the first time, Homer said: "It was a special moment to share my passion for the sport. The images I'd grown up with did not match the beauty I saw there," he told CNN.
    For decades, Senegal has faced heavy criticism for the living conditions, overcrowding, and long pre-trial detentions inside its prisons, as well as the harsh judgments handed out for minor offenses.
    Its prison population of children stands at 1780, according to a recent UN report. Many are there for social reasons -- orphaned or abandoned street children turning to petty crime through hunger or teenage girls who have had illegal abortions.
    "The children are not the problem," program manager Hawa Ba, told CNN in an earlier interview. "It's something wrong with the system."
    Fencing, they believe, shows another way. "It shows the children that they are not outcasts," says prison guard and fencing coach Fatoumata Sy. "That they are still part of the society, and that there are people here to support them."