Helping children ride a wave of hope
DURBAN - Helping uplift young children who live on the streets is one of the main aims of the Surfers Not Street Children organisation.
It was founded by lifelong surfer Tom Hewitt, who said he took his love for the sport and used it as a tool to help uplift children who found themselves on the streets.
Hewitt said his love and interest for vulnerable children came about when he travelled around the world in the 1990s and he noticed the rise in homeless children.
“We would drive around and befriend these children and try to find out the reason why they were on the streets,” he explained.
Hewitt said the idea of involving surfing in what they had started came as a light bulb moment.
“I was surfing with my friends when one of the kids came to me and asked to jump on the board. I made him lie on the board on his stomach as I pushed him with the waves, he giggled with so much joy and excitement and asked to do it again. I then realised that I could do this with them and watch them grow into it.
“’It has developed over the years and is open to not just street kids, but anyone who did not have access to the sport but has an interest in it. The organisation grew as we made it more professional and brought in trained staff members on board,” he said.
Hewitt said as he grew the organisation he met Sandile Mqadi after hearing about the community work he had done in Mzumbe.
Mqadi said the organisation was focused on helping troubled children.
He said their activities take place at Durban’s South Beach and they have children from all over the province.
He added that the programme was not limited to surfing but also extended to the children’s schooling careers.
“We understand that they (children) need to be developed holistically, so we work towards striking the balance between sports and school. We have a computer programme that takes place after the surfing sessions. We also have a feeding scheme, through the feeding scheme we teach the importance of a balanced nutrition,” he said.
Mqadi said they also have a social worker on the team.
He said for the children who come from the streets they work to identify their problems that led them to leave their homes and locate their families to help them reunite with them through the assistance of the Department of Social Development.
“We recently helped a girl from Johannesburg. She was on the streets, she was lured by the surfing boards, she became part of the sessions with us for a few days and we learnt that she has bipolar disorder. We located her family and she was reunited with them. We have also had cases of children who are were forced into prostitution due to their conditions at home,” he said.
Mqadi said the children get a sense of hope by being part of the organisation’s programme.
“Here they feel loved and cared for. We have learnt that some of them are driven away from home because of poverty and abuse, so we aim to understand their situation and attend to their needs accordingly.”
Hewitt said the organisation had formed partnerships with surfing companies.
“Through these partnerships, we have managed to pay our staff members and help to keep the ship afloat,” he said.
Hewitt also said they had the support of world-renowned surfers like Jordy Smith, and Kelly Slater.
He said they have also helped children make a living for themselves and have seen them become surfers, lifeguards, and some have found jobs in the restaurants near the beach.
“The ultimate goal is to mentor the children to become self sustainable and independent,” he said.