Contrary to popular belief, it gets cold in Africa, really cold. As the sun slips behind the mountain casting Muizenberg into deep shadow, the temperature drops dramatically and the kids, shivering in their threadbare wetsuits, decide it’s time to draw a close to our first ever session.
Thanks to the generosity of Titch Paul at Lifestyle Surf Shop and the guys at Knead Bakery, the kids grab a warm shower and a hot chocolate, breathing life back into their shivering frames, before we pile into the bakkie (pick-up) and head back over the mountains to Masiphumlele township and home. For all the kids it has been their first experience of the surf, and it seems to have gone down well. But a few swimming lessons might not go amiss…
Pulling in through the main entrance to the township, with Cape Town silhouetted across a cloudless horizon by a deep-red winter sunset, the streets are a hive of activity as the working day finishes and the township gears up for dark. Under the soft luminescence of flickering street lights kids play football, women trundle by with baskets on their heads, men huddle around fires, smoke wafts in the still evening air as the traffic does its best to weave a way through the crowds unmolested. It is these moments that remind me why I chose to work here. There’s life here, uncontained, unrefined and all ablaze. Tonight all you hear is laughter. It’s not always the case, but tonight it’s a beautiful sound.
I came to Cape Town to escape the comfortable surrounds of home in the UK, to step out and explore. Initially the main draw was the waves: J-Bay, Elands, the Transkei, wild Mozambique. The folklore and fairytale of surfing and drifting on Africa’s Southernmost coastline could not be ignored. But surfing can never be everything; there is more to life, and soon the people and places began to mean more than the endless walls and concave turquoise caverns.
I met Thomas through my work with UK company Ticket to Ride. We’d organise friendly football matches on the beach with the 40 or so kids he looked after at the time, driving over to his shack in our vans and cramming every spare inch to get the kids to the ocean. Over the seasons the project grew and soon we began to see more and more kids, began organising bigger games, friendlies with local clubs and social Braiis (BBQs). We then began sponsoring Thomas’s most talented kids into the local league teams, paying transport and membership fees. However, because of the unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding much of South African competitive sport, the kids eventually found themselves without a league and without a competitive output for all that training. Sessions became less and less frequent and Thomas’s band of kids temporarily disbanded.
I made my mind up when I came back from a trip to Mozambique in May of this year. I hadn’t seen Thomas in 3 months. The last time I had seen him we had braiied for about 80 kids after a football and netball morning. Many of the kids we had fed that day I now saw standing around on the street corners, ditching school and getting into trouble. In the absence of a league and with Thomas taking a new job under pressure from his family, the training had subsided and things had slowed down. In an environment where the consequences and temptations of boredom and downtime are more destructive than most, something needed to be done.
I thought back to when I was a kid, growing up in a small village based around a little park. Everyday after school we would walk back across the park where we’d be met by one of the local parents who’d give up their afternoon to teach us football. After several months he finally got us into a league and, after regular training, we soon became a strong team. Through football we not only found a passion, but also we learned the importance of teamwork and supporting one another. It was a healthy and positive environment to be involved in, vital at a young age. So, with the help of Ticket to Ride, we established the Ticket to Ride Foundation to support Thomas and the kids and provide them with year-round support.
In September of this year we are building Thomas a crèche: a clubhouse for the kids where they will be fed after training twice a week. Over tea one cold morning we took a walk around the small plot by his house where we are to build and hashed out a rough plan; the excitement in his eyes was plain to see. We have also entered Thomas’s kids into the Living Hope Township league, a new league supporting over 1,300 township kids across the Cape Town area. In addition, though the generosity of the Cape Town surfing community and specifically Titch Paul at Lifestyle Surf Shop, we have provided boards and suits for the kids and will introduce them to surfing in the hope they can draw the same positive stoke, passion and drive that we all possess as surfers.
Ultimately, though, the aim is to provide hope to those who can expect nothing. To provide a little variety to a life that seldom extends beyond the wire-fenced confines of the local neighbourhood and to keep them off the streets and on the right track. We are a small organisation; tiny, in fact. ‘We’ are, in reality, only myself, Thomas and the goodwill of the small band that support us; a small band which I hope to expand over the coming months as we search for more funding on mission I hope to share with all who are interested.
If you are in Cape Town, come by. You will be most welcome. If you want to help us, please do. Your contributions are invaluable.
Find out more about our work here.