Committed to doing everything she can for the children, Ngema said: “I can interact with the kids more in the water because sitting and talking causes some to withdraw, but when we’re in the water, I develop a relationship with them, and this helps them to open up to me.”
Ngema works with the Surfers Not Street Children project, which was founded in 2012 by Tom Hewitt and is run by Sandile Mqadi, an award-winning Durban surfer.
She said her approach to working with the children while surfing was a form of therapy.
“Surfing should be like rehab to the kids. Because we get two groups of children in the programme - those who are on the streets and those from the community, behaviour modification is one of the first things we look at.”
She said through the programme, the children were referred to various other organisations to assist them with getting ID documents, placing them in schools, as well as any other issues .
The programme had become popular among girls as well, and Ngema found that some of the girls were involved in prostitution.
“Upon engaging with some of these girls, sometimes you find they want to get out of prostitution. I would then refer them to a relevant organisation to help them,” she said.
Mqadi said they also focused on outreach projects where they went out on the streets looking for street children who had dropped out of the programme and back on to the streets and drugs.
“While out and about, we get to find out from street children what would keep them and bring them back to the programme. Some do come back, in the morning they do their own thing, whether it be collecting cardboard for recycling to make money. But in the afternoon, they leave that world behind and become surfers,” he said.
Andile Zulu, a lifeguard and coach with the programme, began surfing 18 years ago when he found himself living on the streets of Durban.
“When my father, who was the breadwinner at home, died I found myself living alone at home with my grandmother and I ended up on the streets trying to find my independence. I lived on the streets for eight to nine years,” he said.
The programme houses six male surfers at its surfers’ home and preparations are under way to accommodate the girls who have joined the programme at the home.
Lucky Mkhize, 20, from uMlazi, started surfing in 2010 after being on the streets for two years.
“I want to be a lifeguard, my family is very proud of me because I once managed to clinch second place at a provincial competition.” Mkhize is now living back home in uMlazi.
Sisonke Ndumndum, a third-year sports management student at Unisa as well as a coach in the programme, began surfing when he was 12, under the community grouping. He is currently doing his in-service training with Surfers Not Street Children.
“I chose sports management because I am passionate about surfing and I would love to see more black people getting involved in the sport. I live with my mom who is now proud of me, but when I first started surfing, she would get scared and worried sick if I came home a little late after training.”
Cebo Mafuna, 23, who has lived at the surf home for three years and is preparing for this year’s SA Sea Harvest Interclub Championships in Cape Town this month, said he wasn’t nervous about the competition.
“I’ve been preparing hard and have been surfing for 15 years and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.