The beauty of traveling is to be in places that kick you out of your comfort zone. To do things you normally would not do. To create stories that matter to you, that inspire the people around you and maybe inspire the people who hear these stories. But in order for stories to happen you need to meet other people. During your travels you will meet other travelers. All in the same situation which makes it easy to connect. But sometimes you get to meet the locals, locals with a special story, working on their own life stories and willing to share this with you. These are the people who most likely will change your perspective on life. And sometimes they help you create a perspective since you did not have one to begin with. That last thing is exactly what happened to me when I met the Surfers not Street Children from Durban South Africa.
The Surfers not Street children organization is different than any other organization I have seen before. They run a program that has the goal to form a professional surfing team consisting of ex-street kids in transition from childhood into adulthood. The idea is to empower them for life and journey with them towards independence and vocation. They spread the word and inspire other kids by becoming ambassadors. They are trained to combine their life experiences in order to be an important voice around the rights of street children. They are committed to changing how society perceives and treats street children in the world. Maybe starting with you!
Founder Tom Hewitt guides the surfers. They all live in a Surf House in Durban: a place close to the beach so they can surf every day and be together as a group. They now also go on trips around the world to inspire street kids everywhere. Online campaigns with famous surfers such as Jordy Smith also help boost the popularity of the organization. They want to globally change the way people think about street children. And more importantly, reaching kids around the globe to show them surfing could be a way out or up. Off course they changed their own life’s first. They went through several programs that gave them life and labor skills.
During my stay in Durban, Sihle Mbutho showed us the neighborhood he used to live. He showed us the sewer where he hit his clothes behind a stone, his favorite place to get food (from the guys who delivered to the supermarket). He also showed us the spot where his friends were stabbed with knives, where he had to run from fights and where the police took him, sprayed his eyes with tear gas and dropped him 80 kilometers further on a dark road. Not a pleasant site but so close to where I walked and drove all these months. It was an eye-opener for me. Luckily he also showed me a nice spot, a large wall painting, colorful and maybe a symbol of a turning point in this industrial street where too many kids are roaming around.
Surfers Not Street Children offers the possibility to see, hear and experience the lives of these surfers. You can go with them on a guided walk, book a surf lesson, or chat with them in the waters of Durban where they can be easily spotted.
The walk takes you to the places where they slept, where they got their food and what happened to them in that time of their life. They will change your perspective on street kids forever and make you catch waves. At least they did with me.
Gijs Hardeman is a freelance travel writer and founder of NextDestination.nl, a Dutch travel website. He absolutely loves Africa and surfing and found a perfect combination of these two in this organization.