Surfing provides hours of stoke and continues to be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for thousands, but how many have stopped to think about how to harness this stoke to make a difference to those less privileged? Aleph has made it their mission to do exactly this, with surfing as a core foundation of their mandate.
Children from the local community warm up before an Aleph surf lesson in J-Bay.
The word Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, symbolising the beginning or foundation. “If the foundation of a building is not strong, it is going to collapse at some stage” says Aleph founding member, Rehgert Van Zyl. This metaphor applies to the children involved, in whose lives Aleph aims to make a difference by providing the sturdy foundation that they need in order to flourish.
Founded in August 2007, the non-profit organisation has continued their mission to uplift, enrich and educate those who are in need. After opening a shop in Jeffreys Bay, thanks to the kindness of one local business lady who offered them space free of charge, they have now branched out to California with another store in Huntington Beach. Their outreach has certainly had a ripple effect on the international surfing community, inspiring Bianca Buitendag to donate all $25K of her runner-up earnings from the Roxy Pro at Snapper Rocks earlier this year.
One of the Aleph students learning all about ‘stoke’.
Similar to other surf-related NGO’s such as Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children, Aleph is all about building and maintaining a solid foundation for the children through dedicated long-term mentoring. Roy Harley of Christian Surfers says that Aleph has made a “long-term commitment to the sustainable life change of the individuals in the program. It’s a long road and they are in it for the long haul.” Roy goes on to explain that Christian Surfers sees Aleph as one of their “core strategic partners and are excited to see its development across South Africa and perhaps the world in conjunction with our volunteers, Internship Program and network.”
Founding member of Aleph, Reghert Van Zyl (left) and Roy Harley of Christian Surfers (right).
Aleph’s theory is grounded on a similar concept to the old proverb about feeding a man for life by teaching him how catch his own fish, rather than just feeding him for the day by giving him one. As Aleph points out, “we create opportunities not handouts.” With this in mind, Aleph in partnership with Themba International have employed six of the students’ family members to work in their clothing factory, producing original garments for the Aleph store. This employment opportunity has provided the workers with a steady source of income, helping them build towards future dreams.
Being a non-profit organisation, the money made is put back into their many various projects such as Aleph Creatives, which holds art and design workshops nurturing the children’s creative skills. Rehgert explains that “the easy route is to just give a wetsuit and surfboard for an under resourced kid – but the hard part is to go and teach the kid afternoon after afternoon and to walk a road with him through all the seasons of life.” Walking this road and successfully guiding the under resourced children toward making the best decisions in life is what the Aleph programs hope to achieve.
A short video showing just some of the great products manufactured at the Aleph factory.
Realising that the youth need to observe and learn from those who are older and more informed than themselves, Aleph concentrates on acting as a substitute for the stable family environment that most of their participants don’t come from. “Because 75% of the kids we reach out to come from a broken family structure (which means they live with a single mom, grandmother, aunt or uncle) – their ability to have a solid foundation of input is very limited”, says Rehgert.
Aleph uses surfing as a tool of “common ground” through which they are able to gain access into the children’s lives. Rehgert describes surfing as a key aspect in connecting and interacting with the youth in a positive and healthy way. “We can’t take the kids out of their circumstances, we can only give them the empowerment to rise above it. The will to be a success.”
Aleph students gathering knowledge.
Aleph runs after-school programs every week from Monday to Friday, working closely with small groups. They believe that less is more and that they can achieve far more with a few kids by building into them individually, rather than trying to manage a big crowd. The youth involved are also taught the importance of work ethic and the value of education through Aleph’s life-skills sessions that they run before every surf session. They also have tutor/education days with the children in which they can earn points that can in turn be exchanged for goods.
The children’s participation in each of the programs is completely free of charge. The only requirement Aleph has is that they go to school or belong to an educational institution outside of Aleph Surf. The age groups vary from eight to seventeen and as a way of maintaining continual development for the spectrum of their members, Aleph encourages and expects the older graduates to help teach and coach the younger participants – keeping the train of positive impact on the rails for future generations.
Just a few of the boys (above) and girls (below) that are benefiting from Aleph’s helping hands.
Go to www.alephsurf.org to learn more about Aleph’s program.