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, a child that sits on the periphery of his family and is cared for by the community.
It wasn’t until an instructor 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 community child had problems speaking so he 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 name and he raps (his favourite type of music) about Waves for Change.
Last week, Waves for Change (W4C) made a splash in Robertsport, where Universal Outreach is partnering with the Grand Cape Mount Surf Association to develop the local economy through surf tourism. Representatives from W4C in South Africa and Liberia arrived to conduct a surf-centric mental health training program with the area’s burgeoning young surf club.
"As surf tourism develops in Robertsport, we wanted to offer the opportunity for people to also develop their emotional skills. Mental health challenges affect everyone and the stronger the community is the better the experience for those coming to visit and the community as a whole." Landis Wyatt, Universal Outreach.
The team taught the group of girls and boys facilitation techniques that promote a sense of belonging and positive group identity. The training, which harnesses the physical and mental benefits of surfing through its curriculum, equipped the group with a shared understanding of well-being through relationship building and positive reinforcement.
“It was fun! It made me feel relaxed inside and made everyone feel comfortable together and supportive of each other. Now we've organized our own program for the younger ones,” said Samon, who took part in the course.
Armed with their new skills, the youth members have designed and implemented their own program to create a supportive environment for future generations of surfers in Robertsport. The group meets once a week on the beach for a meditation session, circle talk (where they get to share their feelings and thoughts) and some time in the water. This group also does beach clean-ups to ensure beaches are free of trash.
"My dream would be to see that we have given them the tools to create a united team capable of realising their goal 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 realizing their goal of turning Robertsport into a surf tourism destination.”
Alice Wesseh, a Waves For Change coach from Harper, Liberia, aptly described as a "heroine coach" wants to help parents, too. “We also want to change the perception that young 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.
"I love talking to kids and helping kids, because at that time in my life I never had anyone to help me"
Max, another coach from Harper, was one of the first W4C participants and he says 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.
The talented young surfers of Robertsport 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,” Elia, senior youth surfer, Robertsport.
We'd like to thank Mami Wata and a very special donor from the Universal Outreach community for sponsoring this event.