In Liberia, finding hope can be hard for people who’ve suffered unimaginable trauma. From 1989 to 2003, the country’s civil war resulted in the deaths of up to 250,000 people – with the recent Ebola crisis causing over 4,800 people to die.
Poverty and crime only add to the depression and hopelessness felt by late teens and young adults. Praise God for His creativity in reaching young people through the work that organisations such as Waves for Change – which was founded in South Africa in 2011 – are doing to help alleviate the fear and stress faced by young people.
The year-long programme, which teaches children to surf, grew from 5 young South Africans, a car and some surfboards, to 18 coaches and 250 children.
‘From an initial reach of 10 children in the South African township of Masiphumelele,’ say Waves for Change personnel, ‘the programme has grown to reach over 400 children, teachers and parents annually.’
The organisation, which has won several awards for its work, has recently expanded from its South Africa base to Harper, Liberia.
‘We flew from Cape Town to Monrovia,’ says founder Tim Conibear, ‘where we spent some time meeting with the Minister of Youth and Sports, then flew with MAF down to Harper. The only other option was a 17-hour car drive, which we didn’t have time for.’
In the rainy season, the drive can take days because the road turns to a muddy mess and often becomes impassable – making MAF flights vital.
Many people who live near the ocean don’t know how to swim because they’re afraid that evil spirits in the water will try to pull them under. Combating this fear by teaching 15 to 20-year-olds to swim will make a huge difference, as well as having a beneficial effect on their minds and bodies.
‘The only other option was a 17-hour car drive, which we didn’t have time for’
‘Traditionally, the water is a scary place to go,’ says Tim. ‘There’s a fishing community, but I thought in Harper it would be much bigger. Selling fish is a very easy resource, yet few people are doing that. We’ve had to spend about eight months convincing the community that it’s okay for the programme to take place.
‘Sylvestine Gbessagee, the head of the counselling department, and our contact at Tubman University, facilitated the process, saying, “Look, this programme is coming, and we’re going to make sure it’s safe.”’
Tim had to leave Liberia earlier than planned to fly to Monaco to accept the prestigious Laureus Sport for Good award, but says he was fortunate to get on an MAF plane to Monrovia when a doctor and his wife graciously gave up their seats on the fully booked flight.
‘A lot of people knew I had planned to go back to Monrovia by car because the MAF flight was full, and pretty much everyone came up to me and said, “I’m so sorry!” They advised that I take Dramamine motion sickness relief tablets because I would throw up.’
Waves for Change plans to use MAF whenever their personnel need to travel in Liberia.
Give thanks that God can renew the minds of those who have been living in fear and bondage for generations (Romans 12:2), using new and engaging means.
Pray that, with 20 surfboards delivered to Harper earlier this year, and a number of coaches in training, MAF flights and Waves for Change will soon be bringing a tidal wave of change to children desperately in need of help, hope and healing.
'Surfing gives me more hope than I ever had before.'
A participant in the Waves for Change program in South Africa