CHITUNGWIZA, Zimbabwe - Their eyes riveted on their Chinese tai chi master, a group of children in Zimbabwe closely follow a series of martial arts movements performed in a slow and focused manner, accompanied by deep breathing.
From elementary schoolboys to adolescent girls, the group of tai chi enthusiasts enjoy the power of concentration, integral to Chinese culture, under the able guidance of their instructor, 45-year-old Zhu Wei.
Zhu is a traditional Chinese medicine doctor and the chief of the Zimbabwe-China Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Center in Harare. He is also the captain of the Chinese medical team in Zimbabwe.
"Tai chi is good for children. It increases focus and helps them concentrate on studies," he says.
Tai chi is a mind-body exercise rooted in multiple Chinese traditions, including martial arts, TCM and philosophy. It emphasizes a mind-body connection using gentle movements, meditation and deep breathing.
Martial arts are widely recognized as a fitness practice, with a wide range of health benefits. Zhu says tai chi provides mental health benefits like improved cognition and focus, as well as decreased stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, it can improve a child's self-esteem, confidence and physical strength.
Tai chi can teach children discipline, offer them a sense of inner calm and hone their social skills, Zhu says. "It also has physical health benefits because it can improve the immune system."
At Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital, Zhu has offered thousands of Zimbabweans medical assistance using traditional Chinese remedies. The doctor says tai chi has made a huge difference in his own life.
"In winter, I can go around wearing no warm clothes and still not get a cold. It makes me look young too," he says.
Organizer of the children's event at Chitungwiza, near Harare, Abraham Matuka says keeping youngsters busy and entertained with activities like tai chi can help stem challenges of drug and sexual abuse in low-income townships.
Matuka is the founder of the Teen Rescue Mission, an organization that empowers the youth by offering them education and skill development opportunities. With support from the Chinese embassy, enterprises and the Chinese community, the TRM has opened a platform where young people can showcase their talent.
"As an organization, we believe in offering the youth a forum where they can talk about the challenges they are facing in life," he says.