WAVES FOR CHANGE
WAVES FOR CHANGE
THE IDEA THAT EXPERIENCING THE OCEAN ON A SURFBOARD CAN BE BENEFICIAL TO BOTH ONE’S PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH SHOULD BE OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED THE JOYS OF SURFING. STUDIES HAVE PROVEN SURFING NOT ONLY HAS THE ABILITY TO IMPROVE A PERSON’S MOOD, IT CAN ALSO ALLEVIATE STRESS AND DEPRESSION. SURFING IS USED BY MANY PROGRAMMES AROUND THE WORLD AS A WAY TO HELP INDIVIDUALS COPE WITH MENTAL AND PHYSICAL ILLNESS. AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR, SOUTH AFRICAN PROGRAMME WAVES FOR CHANGE WAS RECOGNISED WITH THE LAUREUS SPORT FOR GOOD AWARD FOR THEIR WORK USING SURF THERAPY TO HELP CHILDREN ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA.
Waves for Change provides a child-friendly mental health service that combines surfing, as well as access to safe spaces and caring mentors to help children living in some of South Africa’s most unstable and violent communities.The programme is committed to helping youngsters impacted by emotional and physical trauma in order to increase their long-term prospects for social acceptance and inclusion.The programme reaches close to 1,000 children each year, operating at five sites in Cape Town, East London and Port Elizabeth.
Many of the participants experience high levels of violence, both in their homes and in their communities. There are over 150,000 active gang members in Cape Town alone.Young South Africans from violent communities where gangs run rampant and poverty is a very real problem experience up to 15 traumatic incidents a year, compared to their UK or US counterparts who are said to only experience between three and five in a lifetime. This kind of continuous trauma has a massive effect on the way youngsters behave, learn, and respond to their environments. Perpetuating cycles of violence, engaging in highrisk behaviour (mostly sexual) and poor attendance at school are all commonplace, fuelling social exclusion.
Waves for Change founder Tim Conibear, originally from Oxford in the UK, has been passionate about surfing for years, and wholeheartedly believes in the psychological benefits of being in the water. After studying, he started working at the Harlyn Surf School in Cornwall, where he was first exposed to the notion that positive social and mental development could come from surfing.This was made even more evident in his work with mentally handicapped children from a nearby school. After a few trips to South Africa, he started taking youngsters from the local townships with him to the beach to surf. He quickly found that the bond formed between them was unbreakable, and that their response was something that could not be ignored. With the assistance of Waves for Change co-founders, Apish Tshetsha
and Bongani Ndlovu, they developed the programme in Cape Town’s Masiphumelele township and started getting more and more kids into the water.
Speaking about the programme, Conibear explains: “Surfing is a sport that requires time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to learning. It is not an easy feat. The rewards, however, are enormous, and the idea of proving to yourself that you can achieve goals that at some point you didn’t believe were attainable, creates a sense of self-worth – something most of the youngsters from these violent communities lack.”
Waves for Change has created and developed a unique form of therapy that combines surfing with humanistic and cognitive behavioural approaches designed specifically for youths who have learning and behavioural problems (often due to exposure to emotional and psychological trauma). The programme is delivered by coaches and mentors who are often from the same communities as the kids. They are trained specifically with skills that teach the children how to cope with stress, whilst at the same time helping them to build trusting relationships and foster a positive self-image.
Lwandile Mntanywa (21) is one of the programme’s success stories. Growing up in an abusive home and being regularly exposed to violence from a young age resulted in Lwandile developing acute symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. He started surfing with Waves for Change when he was 14 years old. As a result of the programme he turned his back on gang life and went on to complete his school education. After graduating from school, Lwandile completed his lifeguard qualification and is now back at Waves for Change as a coach, mentoring the next generation of surfers with the skills he has acquired through his own experience.
Lwandile’s passion for surfing has helped him to deal with his past. “Your past doesn’t go away; it’s always on your mind. But when I am surfing I feel strong, I feel like things are possible. It is important for me to share this with the kids from my community, I am a role model and I want to inspire them to make positive life choices.”
Waves for Change is making remarkable strides in implementing change in these violent communities and, since their inception
in 2011, they now have a collection of mental health and developmental professionals, as well as an ever-growing team of trainee auxiliary youth care workers, who also surf.The programme is a massively positive step in changing the cycles of violence in communities where gangsterism is rife and the opportunities for success are rare. One of the most celebrated achievements at Waves for Change is the number of girls who are now attending, with female participation close to 40 %. At the start of the year, Waves for Change also launched a pilot programme in Liberia, its first international initiative outside South Africa.
When asked about the future, Conibear says: “It is our goal to keep building new Waves for Change sites in communities lacking in mental health services.The success of the programme proves that surfing is a legitimate tool for social change, and has genuine therapeutic qualities that we are beginning to understand in more depth.We want to make surfing and surf therapy available to as many at-risk children and young adults as possible.”
Conibear and his team are doing game changing work, and the positivity they are inspiring in the youth of this country is remarkable. For more information on how you can support them visit www.waves-for-change.org or follow them on social media @WavesforChange.