How A Charitable Surf Org Is Getting African Girls Out Of Dire Circumstances
Surfers Not Street Children launches Girls Surf Too program addressing the dire circumstances of South Africa’s forgotten young girls.
What if we hoisted our surf heroes on pedestals not because of the rad airs they do or the comps they win, but rather because of the positive change they inspire and inspire and initiate? From the environment to social issues, there are a lot of people who do amazing things and make the world a better place through surfing.
“I think it’s a global movement, and it’s really powerful,” said Tom Hewitt, founder of the South African group Surfers Not Street Children (SNSC), while he was passing through California a few weeks back.
Tom was in town rallying support for a new program he’s developing called Girls Surf Too. He’s one of the most impressive people I’ve ever had the good fortune to call a friend.
Growing up a surfer in the U.K., in the early ‘90s, Hewitt moved to South Africa to fight Apartheid—and surf. He worked the polling stations during the historic vote for Nelson Mandela in ’94. He learned to speak Zulu and Xhosa. It was during this time he was also exposed to the plight of dispossessed street children. Some years later he was inspired to blend the work he was doing with the street children and his love of surfing.
Helping kids for over 20 years, SNSC is based in Durban. They’ve recently launched another program in Mozambique, which is being supported by Pope Francis. Hewitt’s also received the Member of the British Empire award, basically a notch down from knighthood, and when Prince Harry or others in the royal family head to South Africa they’ve got him on speed dial. SNSC is not just doing incredible work getting black African youth off the street and showing them a better life through surfing, but it’s also helping deconstruct Apartheid-era mindsets and barriers.
Their newest endeavor, Girls Surf Too, places much-needed focus on some of the most vulnerable in Durban’s Point area. They’re endeavoring to rescue girls between the ages of 10 to 14 who are often forgotten, disregarded and forced into prostitution by area gangs.
“As a woman and a social worker, I knew that these girls needed extra help,” says S’lindile Ngema, a SNSC social worker who runs the Girls Surf Too program. “Life in those situations is extremely tough, especially if you are female. We had to do something and we had to do it fast.”
While in California, Hewitt stayed with me in San Clemente for a few days and we got into long conversations about the Girls Surf To program.
“These girls are brought into these hostels, which are really just one step from the streets, perhaps more dangerous than the streets,” he explained. “They’re controlled by the gangs and nobody really has access to these places.”
Hewitt revealed that because of SNSC’s work, when him and Ngema went into one of the hostels to retrieve a girl that was in their surf program, the leaders of the gangs recognized them and afforded them the ability to not only get this one particular girl out, but also help others in similar situations.
“They basically gave us access to help the kids. They didn’t want the kids suffering like they had,” Ngema said.
There are now 45 girls in the Girls Surf To program. Getting them in the water is the first step. From there, barriers can be broken down and they can the process of healing, through education, mentoring, counseling and more long-term care if needed.
The program takes place daily at the SNSC Drop-in Centre, known as the Surf Club right at Durban’s New Pier. SNSC’s Surf House is also an emergency rescue center for girls who need immediate rescuing from their situation.
Hewitt just launched a fundraising campaign to help support the Girls Surf Too program. Because of the urgent need, they rushed to start the program earlier this year. Now they’re looking to fund it for the next two years. It costs approximately $30,000 to run the program for a year.
With all of the talk in pay equality and providing women with a more even playful in surfing, it’s hard to imagine a more real, more pressing use than what Hewitt, Ngema and SNSC are facing. Chipping in a few bucks would go a long way towards giving these girls some very much needed stoke.
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