Surf’s up for Durban’s street kids

3 February 2006

Through an ambitious long-term programme, Durban’s uShaka Marine World is offering street children the chance to learn to surf. Lying on the east coast of South Africa, the city of Durban’s warm climate makes it the country’s watersports capital.

The uShaka programme not only teaches the kids to surf, it also offers them the chance to try their hands at kayaking and biking tours. It was set up by Alan Wallace, a professional lifeguard.

“We try to give those less fortunate a chance to come and learn how to surf,” Wallace says. “To see the street kids’ faces light up when they’re in the water is priceless.”

Helping Wallace as an instructor is Victor Ngema. Once a car guard on the Durban beach front, watching over the lifeguard’s car, his big break came when Wallace offered to teach him to surf.

Wallace also taught Bongani Mathe and Musa Zwane, who also learned kayaking, seamanship training, safety and paddling skills, and water safety.

Mathe says it was a life-changing experience.

“I cannot believe it. I can do things that I would never have thought possible. I have a place to stay and food, and for that I am grateful,” he says.

The programme relies on sponsorship, and is currently backed by Jeep.

Sun and pure fun
“The centre offers fun with a difference,” Wallace says. “There are so many water sports that are rarely offered in Durban. Now families can come together under the sun for pure fun.

“This is a chance to give back to the community. These kids have faced many hardships on the streets. This is a chance for them to help others who are going through what they have gone through.

“I have had this ambition for quite a long time, but just did not know how to do it.”

Although the their are only a few kids in the programme at the moment, Wallace is negotiating with potential sponsors for greater support to increase numbers.

He says the demands placed on the street children differ from those that come from a stable home.

“Surfing is physically demanding and it is difficult to carry out the activity on an empty stomach as is normally the case with the kids, but a big supermarket has promised to provide food,” he says.

Wallace hopes the programme will help develop the participants into professional lifeguards to help them make a living. reporter

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