Life on the streets in Durban, South Africa, is tough. Hunger, violence, crime, disease, and drug addiction are parts of everyday life, even for the city’s youngest members. But for three children who used to live on the streets, surfing is their salvation from the trauma of street life and the key to a successful adulthood.
Sihle Mbutho, 20, Lucky Nozisali, 24, and Andile Zulu, 20, are all graduates of Umthombo, a nonprofit organization started in 1998 by British surfer and activist Tom Hewitt.
At Umthombo, homeless kids are welcomed off the streets with food, education, and counseling. But replacing the fast-paced, high-adrenaline lifestyle of the streets is difficult, which is where surfing comes in.
“At Umthombo we developed a model of fusing what we call ‘high-intensity engagement activities’ that captured their attention and consumed them, with psychosocial services such as counseling,” said Hewitt, adding, “Surfing was a very popular engagement and opened the door to be able to do the psychosocial work. When kids are stoked, they are excited and motivated. We try to harness the stoke and use that as part of the model.”
The three kids loved surfing so much that they formed Team Surfers Not Street Children, collaborating with Hewitt as global advocates to highlight the plight of street children in South Africa and promote strategies for working with homeless youth. The organization is supported by O’Neill.
“Globally, street children are marginalized within the development sector. They are nowhere on agendas, and the problem is seen as unavoidable or too hard to deal with,” explained Hewitt. “Surfers Not Street Children aims to be a springboard to a global popular movement around street children.”