Away from the violence to the ocean

Many children in South Africa grow up in violent neighborhoods. Children who witness and are victims of violence often suffer from post-traumatic stress. Supported by Childhood, the organization Waves for Change works to help and empower these children through surf therapy.

Many children in South Africa grow up in areas where violence is a part of everyday life. Children who witness and are victims of violence often suffer from post-traumatic stress and may have difficulties coping with feelings and moods. To support children growing up in violent neighborhoods, Waves for Change was established in 2011 in Masiphumelele, South Africa. The project uses surf therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and play to help these children and young people cope with their feelings, build healthy relationships and make good choices in life to help them stay away from destructive social exclusion.
Through the program, children participate in surfing lessons where part of the time is spent in support group activities, and after one year they can continue at a surf club. One aim of the surfing lessons is to teach children to feel connected to their bodies, which can help to reduce symptoms related to post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. The project combines surfing with additional psychosocial components and also includes home and school visits, parent education and mentorship.

Collaboration with local communities

An important part of the project involves using local resources and collaborating with local communities. In communities that lack the means to offer social and emotional support, it is difficult to identify young people who are at risk of social exclusion. Waves for Change therefore educates people in local communities who young people look up to, with the intention that these people will notice, identify and refer young people to Waves for Change. In this way, more people can be offered an opportunity to take part in the program. Together with local communities, Waves for Change offers surf therapy programs on beaches close to the violent neighborhoods where the children live. Many of the beaches in the area were closed to non-whites during apartheid, which means many who participate in the program, and their parents, have no previous experience of the ocean. A few days a week, the children are now picked up in a minibus that drives them away from the violence to the ocean, if only for a short while.

Waves for Change educates and trains young people from local communities who lack employment and education so they can become instructors for the surf program and make it easier to find work in the future. Several of the trainers themselves took part in the program when they were younger.

Successful treatment method

Since 2011, the program has reached one thousand children and trained more than 50 instructors. Waves for Change has spread to several areas in South Africa and is now Africa’s largest organization using surf therapy as a treatment method for post-traumatic stress. In 2016, a survey found that 92 percent of the children and young people who have taken part in the program felt happier and more self-confident, 83 percent found it easier to find peace and quiet and felt less stressed, angry and sad. After their children have completed the program, parents have noticed an improvement in their behavior and results at school.

Earlier this year, Waves for Change received the Laureus Sport for Good Award. The prize is awarded to an organization or individual who has used sport as a tool to overcome violence and discrimination.

Text: Sofia Nilsson