WAVES FOR CHANGE

WAVES FOR CHANGE

In Flight Magazine - - IN THIS ISSUE - { TEXT: JULIE GRA­HAM & WAVES FOR CHANGE | IM­AGES © 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.

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