W4C provides a child-friendly mental health service to at-risk youth living in unstable communities. Through access to safe spaces, caring mentors, and a provision of weekly Surf Therapy sessions, W4C gives children skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships, and make positive life choices.
W4C was founded by Ashoka Fellow Tim Conibear, who spent time in South Africa after graduating from university in the UK. An avid surfer, Tim spent every free moment he had surfing. In 2009 he started a small surfing club in Masiphumelele Township. The club centred around voluntary weekend surfing sessions, which soon grew when local community members – Apish Tshetsha and Bongani Ndlovu – volunteered to lead and expand the club.
Apish and Bongani recognised that surfing was a great way to engage young people, who soon started sharing their stories and challenges. In an effort to provide more social support, the trio reached out to local social services only to realise that local services were heavily under-resourced. A gap was identified.
Daily exposure to violence and stress means many South Africans suffer from acute emotional and psychological stress. In the absence of emotional support, the stress often manifests in anti-social and high-risk behaviour, placing many young South Africans at-risk. Early surfing sessions showed that participants noted improved feelings of belonging, strength, trust and confidence – key pillars of wellbeing. This was reflected in their behaviour as noted by teachers and parents.
The trio crew, teamed up with mental health professionals and development experts to develop, what today is, an award winning Surf Therapy programme. W4C works in communities affected by violence, poverty and conflict, where mental health services are often stigmatized and under-resourced. Working in partnership with local community members, they identify, train and resource mentors, who they work with to open programmes that service the youth of their own home communities.
One of the W4C participants was quoted as saying: “Waves for change taught me to be independent and have hope for tomorrow. If I fall, I know that I can rise again. Life is full of challenges, but I should not give up.”
Surf’s up and thumb’s up to W4C!