The Waves for Change surfing programme aims to provide a child-friendly mental health service. Picture: Supplied

Struggling to cope with violence at home in Masiphumelele township, Cape Town - 15-year-old Sipho was skipping school, stealing money and taking drugs as young as 12 years. 
But thanks to Waves for Change – a surf therapy project for the youth– he’s turned his life around for the better.
“When I catch the wave it makes me proud of who I am, my worries are washed away. And I forget all the problems that I had.”
Sipho sharing his story in a documentary video says his childhood didn't come without challenges. His father was an alcoholic, he used to beat his mother with glass bottles.
 And every time it happened, it left him with multiple unsettling emotions. “It made me sad and angry. It hurt me inside in a way I could never express.” 
Not only did Sipho go through emotional issues, but poverty in his own home meant that he could not get all the meals a child needs to eat to get the required nutrition.
 “There was not enough food for everyone. Some days, we used to sleep without eating anything, a cup of tea was all we had to keep us through the night,” recalls Sipho.
At that time, he says, he was constantly hurt because he felt like there was no one to talk to. So as a coping mechanism, he started taking drugs-hoping they would hide his pain. 
“I felt like the drugs acted as a pain block to remove the wound I had inside.”
To sustain his drug habit, Sipho stole money, and his mother was the biggest victim.
After his bouts of anger and drug addiction, a teacher reached out to him and recommended the surf project called Waves for Change (W4C).
The project provides a child-friendly mental health service to at-risk youth living in unstable communities. Through access to safe spaces, mentors and weekly ‘Surf Therapy’ sessions, the programme gives children the skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships and ultimately make the positive life choice.
W4C was a brainchild of an Ashoka fellow, Tim Conibear, who spent time in South Africa after finishing his studies in the UK.
Ashoka is an international organization that promotes social entrepreneurship by affiliating individual social entrepreneurs into the Ashoka organisation. It identifies leading social entrepreneurs with solutions to social problems who seek to make large-scale changes to society. 
An avid surfer, Conibear started W4C in 2009 as a small surfing club in Masiphumelele. The club centred around voluntary weekend surfing sessions, which soon grew when local community members joined in.
In an effort to provide more social support, with volunteers they reached out to local social services, only to realise that local services were heavily under-resourced. 
Conibear found that in SA, the kids were similarly instinctively drawn to the surf.
 "It had a natural appeal. A lot of them couldn't even swim, so they loved the element of danger. These are kids who weren't being reached by football or cricket or anything like that. They were a very difficult bunch of kids to reach."
The statistics for under 18s in South Africa's townships suggests that 45 % have witnessed a killing; 56 percent have been a victim of violence and most display signs of post-traumatic stress.
Now, Sipho, who admits that making the change was not easy, says he has learned to deal with his emotions.
 “I feel happy and I want to share my story with other people so I can help them.”
Sipho who wants to be a lifeguard when he finishes his studies admits that being in the water is the best thing for him.
“You get beaten up by the waves, you go in the water, you have to breathe and relax. That teaches you to trust yourself and by doing so you learn to be more confident,” he said.