After years of apartheid it is natural for countrymen to yearn and form individual or collective dreams of what freedom might feel, look or sound like. 16 years on from the 1994 general election the expectations surrounding South Africa’s first Freedom Day remain vastly unfulfilled for the majority. As the gap between the rich and poor widens the waterway to unity dries up and South Africa’s children seem forgotten.
The solution, for couple Hermann Vivier and Jenya Zhivaleva of Unravel Travel, is to fill this gap with the ocean and bridge it with a surfboard. With the help of their friend, Reinder Elema, Unravel Travel’s Outreach Program serves to teach surfing to local children as a first step in sustainable development. Rather than head to the cities of Cape Town or Johannesburg where poverty of spirit masquerades as prosperity, Unravel Travel is creating an alternative option.
A Cape Town “runaway”, Hermann is well aware of the potential impact that the masquerade has having witnessed the fast transition from innocence to anger in township children as young as 10 years of age.
“Our Surf Camp clients must know that their fees finance the education and training of these kids to one day [once of legal working age] do what we do: Organise and Host Adventure Surf Camps,” says Hermann.
Children like Mactine have already bought into the idea of this Promised Land so far away from home. On 21st October 2010 the introduction to the Outreach Program and its selection process began at Friemersheim Primary School. Modestly penned on one of thirty one pieces of paper gathered up was Mactine’s answer to the only question in the process. Question: “What do you want?” Answer: “…to see the Real Life”.
Together with the experience of becoming confident surfers the selected children will, under the safeguard of strict supervision, partake in group only Camp Activities alongside Unravel Travel’s global Surf Camp clients. Through gentle exposure and the collective experience of surfing it is hoped that both groups will unite and mentalities broaden.
The widening of mindsets may be a goal originally reserved for the Outreach Program and surf camp travellers but the ripples of change are spreading further.
During apartheid black people were not allowed on South Africa’s glorious beaches. Instead they were segregated to the most unforgiving sections where dangerous rips took many lives. It is here that the wound of repression and its symptoms were created. Coloured with a sense of displeasure, this forced black people to veer away from the beaches and white people to form assumptions such as those made by an old generation farmer – that black people are not “water people”.
20th November 2010 is set to be a landmark in history for the four selected children: Ame, Billy, WIlmar and Marchall. Despite the heavy silence of apprehension from parents and instructors alike, they took to the embryonic wonder that is the ocean and rode their surfboards with natural ease proving segregation and its symptoms wrong.
Bennie, Marchall’s father, says “The first day we went to the beach we saw surfers in the water and Marshall said ‘daddy can I go there’. I told him no. I was a bit nervous because I was just thinking about sharks and how deep the water was”. He laughs with a sweetness that is full of warmth and then leans forward in a gentle tone of seriousness, “The surfing lesson was about my son and I will give him the support he needs”. It becomes apparent that the Real Life that Mactine and many of us in the west crave is right where Marchall needs it – at home with his father.
Like the other parents, used to a life of endless chores, a day at the beach for Bennie was more an unaffordable luxury than an alien concept.
“We would love to have more children to teach but we only have one vehicle to transport them, their parents, the equipment and us”, says Hermann, “Once we have more people booking the surf camps we can get another vehicle and take on more children”.
The non-existence of public transport in rural areas of South Africa is typical. Regardless of the Department of Transports plans to integrate the billions allocated to 2010 World Cup transport projects via the Public Transport Infrastructure and System Grant into, in part, public transport and road infrastructure rural areas continue to slip off the list of investment priorities.
James Speelman, Principal of Friemersham Primary School says “In the previous government only colored people lived here and we were cut off from the rest of the world. Because there is no transport here we can’t give our children what we want”.
The look of solid determination is evident in Hermann’s eyes as he speaks of a sustainable society bankrupt of the concept of charity and where terms like ‘privileged’ and ‘underprivileged’ do not exist yet this journey and these children are teaching him more about life and himself than he ever thought possible.
Mr. Speelman says, “This is an opportunity for our children. There is poverty in our area and parents have no transport to the beaches. The day we went was the first time these children had been to the beach. And since that first surf lesson I see a change in Marchall. He is more disciplined and wants to do well”.
Hermann and Jenya’s eyes dance across the panels of the storeroom where they have set up office as they recall the look on the children’s faces at the end of that first day and seek solace. Tell tale signs of expected disappointment spread across the children’s faces when it was time to go home. Whether directly or indirectly experienced, the concept of broken promises seems to be a gross reality in their world spreading from the upper echelons of government to the deep sighs of their parents and the innocent pebbles of a beach.
Unravel Travel’s focus is on unifying humanity and on committing to these children so that they never expect disappointment again.
What started out as a trickle in the mind, ‘a humble effort’ according to Jenya, has attracted support from nature’s tides (the world’s strongest current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, is right on their doorstep) and human hearts. The New Year has brought Surf Camp clients, more lessons and space for one more child. With continual support many more children like Mactine will be given the possibility of a real life with a difference and the opportunity to no longer be forgotten.
For now, upon the planets most powerful and healing force, hope floats.