Waves for Change

It is actually my first time I find myself in the position of spending some of my time on writing an article for a magazine. I have probably never written anything like this because I personally do not like much imposing my personal view to other people, neither I like convincing people about what it is right or wrong.

However, this time is different and I feel the need to share something about my six months experience in Cape Town, South Africa, because I am actually enthusiastic about some people I have met and organizations in which I have been involved in during my stay.

I strongly believe these amazing people can be the future for Africa in terms of change.

I am writing this article from the airplane, on my way back from the place that has been my temporary home for about six months – Cape Town – and the place that is home for my heart – Italy. While being shuffling on the plane monitor for some good playlists to listen to during the journey, I opted for the rock band that is my all times favourite, the Pink Floyd. My mind started elaborating the meaning of the song titles with my experiences in Cape Town, trying to draw some conclusions about the current situation in South Africa, a country that is one of the most beautiful in the planet for sure, but that is also frustrated by many contradictions and problems.

Initially I believed that the main problems were corruption and the complicated history related to apartheid; this was enough to me to explain the poor infrastructure system, the complicated economic situation and the lack of opportunities for South Africans. However, I was feeling that these reasons were not enough to get to a complete understanding of the South African.

The real topic of this article and the key element for my understanding of the South African reality is WAVES FOR CHANGE (aka W4C). W4C is a surf-therapy organization based in Cape Town working with the township communities of the coast, those areas in South Africa that have the highest poverty and violence. W4C is taking surfing to townships communities, where there has never been surfing culture before, where drugs, alcohol and gangsters win over any other type of recreational activity. According to W4C, Surfing is the vehicle for trauma relief.

In fact, in the townships of the Cape young people experience up to 8 traumatic events per year, up to 20% of young South Africans are affected by Post Traumatic Stress and two-third of the young people going to W4C programs demonstrate signs of emotional trauma.

W4C works with teachers, parents and the wider community to get those kids who need the most support and guidance. Young surfers are referred into the W4C program by local schools. These referred kids are the ones that are the most troublesome, rebel and traumatized. These traits are an exact consequence of the township life and often cause kids to drop school and become young gangsters. Rebuilding trust and building supportive relationships is key to recovering from traumatic events. W4C is pioneering a winning formula of surfing & evidence-based therapy programming to break the cycles of violence that keep South African youth from their true potential.

W4C is more than surfing: it is a vital service in communities where poverty and violence have a major impact on the wellbeing of young people. Mentorship is key in both surfing and teaching to kids how to protect themselves from bad influences. It is all about combining surfing with emotional and psychosocial support. This is the so-called “Surf-therapy”.

The real problem of South Africa is that it is a very diverse country, with more than 11 different languages and ethnic groups. Kids do not really have sense of belongingness.

Joining gangs and start using drugs with the group gives them the same sort of sense, which is in reality no more than sense of violence and neglect, helplessness and hopelessness for the community. W4C acts as a catalyst that enables to start with a different type of group activity. Surfing does not lead to the self-perpetuating sense of violence and neglect; surfing gives a positive circle of friendsand enables to become a role mode for the younger folks. If you are a surfer, it is cooler than being a gangster.

For example, when there is any type of issue, kids can go to their coaches, who are there to teach them the right behaviour and help them. However, the coaches are not youth care workers, coaches are guys from the township that have completed the program in the previous years, the ones that have shown to be reliable, responsible and trustworthy; the ones that apply the values learned with the program also in the daily life. They are the role models, the ones that inspire the younger surfers.

“W4C is more than surfing. It’s my family. It’s my life!”

“W4C has changed my life. I do not know who I would have been today without the help from W4C”

“When I am surfing, all I think is about the next wave. For me surfing is freedom!”

These are only a few phrases I remember from a bunch of kids from the last time I have visited W4C compound.

I hope this brilliant initiative will win many more prizes than the ones it has already won in the next future, so that they will be able to make use of the money from the prizes for expanding and consolidating their currents programs and activities. Finally, I hope that more and more people will increase their sensibility towards the township youth generation uplifting problem.

I believe the world should change in the right direction and the W4C boys are showing to South Africa the most effective and brightest path.

Davide Baratto

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