Mr Ross, the manager of Waves for Change Liberia, watches over a lesson on relationship building and trust
In the seaside town of Harper, southern Liberia, there was a young boy who, each morning as the town stirred, would already be on the beach. He would spend the rest of the day there, unclothed, looking for almonds to eat.
He was what they called a community child. He had a family, but he was cared for by the community. With no one to speak to growing up, he never learned to speak properly and couldn’t say his own name - he went by a nickname he chose - but he understood what was being said to him.
It wasn’t until a worker from Waves for Change Liberia invited him to join their program that the tide began to change for him.
Waves for Change is a South African not-for-profit that provides child-friendly mental health services to under-resourced communities. In the beginning, the boy would participate with what little words he knew, mostly just noises, but the environment of support and encouragement the program fostered gave him the confidence to start developing his skills. Now, seven months later, he has learned to say his real name and he raps (his favourite type of music) about Waves for Change.
Last week, Waves for Change made a splash in Robertsport, where UOF are working to develop the local economy through surf tourism. Representatives from South Africa and Harper arrived to conduct a training program with the area’s burgeoning young surf club.
Alice, centre, sharing her knowledge and passion with the local surfers
The youth members of the now 50-strong Grand Capemount County Surf Club Association are accustomed to taking to the waters with a board tucked under their arms, but this week they took to the classroom with a great deal of enthusiasm.
The team taught the group of girls and boys facilitation techniques that promote a sense of belonging and a positive group identity. The training, which harnesses the physical and mental benefits of surfing through its curriculum, surfing and other activities, equipped the group with a shared understanding of wellbeing through relationship building and positive reinforcement.
Armed with their new skills, the youth members will design and implement their own programs to create a supportive environment for future generations of surfers in Robertsport.
“It was fun! It made me feel relaxed inside and it made everyone feel really comfortable together and to support each other. Now we can organise some things for the younger ones,” said Samon, who took part in the course.
Having spent countless days together atop their boards at plentiful point breaks, the group has an ease with each other.
"My dream would be to see that we have given them the tools to create a united team capable of realising their dream of turning Robertsport into a surf tourism destination"
“The class has been great!” said Ash, the South African representative. “You can tell they’re comfortable with each other; they participate and they’re happy to make mistakes. It’s a great foundation to build on. My dream would be to see that we have given them the tools to create a united team capable of realising their dream of turning Robertsport into a surf tourism destination.”
Alice Wesseh, aptly described as a "heroine coach" who helped the young boy from Harper through his difficult start in life, worked on developing the behaviour of his parents, too. “We also want to change the perception that younger kids are less important and that respect is about give and take. Kids can become less expressive when they aren’t listened to, which they can take with them through life. We help to build positive and healthy relationships where communication is always open,” said Alice.
The board members and the youngsters took these lessons into their next meeting, which they all agreed was their most productive yet!
"I love talking to kids and helping kids, because at that time in my life I never had anyone to help me"
Max, one of the coaches from Harper, was once enrolled in the program and said that it saved him from depression. He now coaches those who, like he once did, feel lost in life. “I want to help lead young people away from the kind of peer pressure that I saw when I was younger by providing a safe space. I love talking to kids and helping kids, because at that time in my life I never had anyone to help me,” he said.
Alice worked with the young community child and helped him to rediscover his voice
The talented young surfers embraced the course and all its lessons and believe they can grow together as a result. “It was a great program and we feel we can show trust and support to work through our problems calmly together,” said Elia, one of the older boys on the course.
The Waves for Change team was so passionate about the project and that passion really did make a splash in the minds of the Robertsport youth. We look forward to seeing the work they can do in realizing Robertsport’s potential as a West African surfing destination!