To reach and strengthen high-risk groups through sports


Project partner:
Waves for Change

Cape Town, South Africa

Ulrikah Reihs
[email protected]

In the aftermath of apartheid many children in South Africa grow up in areas where violence is part of everyday life. A child who witnesses and experiences violence often suffers from post-traumatic stress and may have difficulty managing emotions and moods. Due to a poor health care system, other ways are needed to give the children the support they are entitled to. Since 2011, the local grass root organization Waves for Change (W4C) offers surfing therapy to children in violent neighborhoods. In their programs, young people not only learn to master the waves, but also get tools to manage their emotions, have a safe place to stay and also access to caring adults and positive relationships.

Lower stress levels and better self-esteem

The University of Cape Town has evaluated the impact of the surfing therapy and the result is undeniable – after completing their year in the program, virtually all children have lower stress levels and better self-esteem. A positive side effect, which was not anticipated, was that many of the girls reported that they more often than before dared to speak out when they were exposed to unwanted sexual approaches.

Surfing therapy for children with autism

Childhood has been working with W4C since 2016. In addition to reaching more children and spreading surfing therapy to more areas, they have, with our support, also established a network for organizations that use sports to engage young people. Their aim is to spread the concept of sports therapy and to inform of factors needed to make a real difference. Since 2019, we help to adapt and test the surfing therapy to children with autism. During the first year, 75 children participated in the program. The results, once more evaluated by the University of Cape Town, are impressive –  a large part of the children have improved their psychomotor skills and communication ability, have developed tools to regulate their emotions and strengthened their social relationships with others.

Most of the surfing coaches come from similar areas as the participants, and the effect of the therapy also benefits them: “You come here to help the children heal, but in the end you also heal yourself.”

Photo: private