Cape Town surfer Tim Conibear is the founding member of the Isiqalo Project, a non profit organization based in the Western Cape. The word isiqalo translates to “the first step”, and one of the steps Isiqalo is taking is to educate community members of Cape Town’s townships about HIV and AIDS, and to encourage them to know their status and dispel the myths and stigma attached to the virus.
One project they have been having great success with is the “Waves for Change” project, where Tim and his team use surfing as a means to educate young members of Masiphumelele township about HIV and AIDS. We contacted Tim to find out more about the good work they’ve been doing:
Zigzag: Howzit Tim, we’ve just come to learn about your project, and the good work you’ve been doing. What was the motivation behind starting the Isiqalo project, and long has it been running for?
Tim Conibear: Waves for Change was conceived in 2010 and I spent a year researching and writing the course content with the help of NGO’s, community leaders, doctors and care givers. We launched the first formal course in May 2011.
The idea was to work with the community (Masiphumelele as our first site) and address the way people saw HIV. It was apparent that the basic education about the virus was there but that stigma was a huge issue in getting people to test and attend clinics. People really see HIV as a death sentence, with many of the people we spoke to, especially young males, saying they’d rather die than know they were HIV positive – such was the disgrace of being diagnosed with HIV. In fact, a recent study showed that only 1 in 5 people who test positive in Masi are on ARV’s.
We wanted to address HIV as a social condition and find a way of engaging with young adults, and especially young males, to encourage them to see HIV as a virus they can live with and control. That HIV is not something to be afraid of, so long as you have a community behind you. Knowing your status is power!
Where exactly does the link between surfing and HIV come in?
Surfing’s aesthetic is huge, and the idea of ‘cool’ seems to speak to young people. We thought surfing could be a really good tool for engaging young adults who are usually hard to approach, and in overcoming stigma towards HIV.
We wanted to find a new and engaging way of talking to young adults, building respect and keeping their interest for long enough to educate them about HIV, stigma and community building. The draw of surfing seems to keep the guys coming back and allows us the time to engage them through enjoyable role plays and exercises.
As I say, we really want to alter the perception of HIV. Especially now, with global funding for research being cut and no apparent gains in finding a cure, the best alternative are informed and tolerant communities that will respect each other and work together.
Have you had many kids come through the program?
We’ve had 80 come through the program this year, with over 60% choosing to test on completion. We’ve also seen really good early results in basic behavioral change which we also assess – reducing your amount of sexual partners, testing with your partner and staying faithful are a few examples.
We are hoping to have 200 young adults from Masi through next year (14 – 20 years old) and are looking into expanding the reach of the course through some new partnerships in 2012.
Who funds the program?
We’ve got a few larger supporters to cover basic course costs and are looking to raise a couple more. Our main financial support comes from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and Vimto softdrinks. We then also get support from SSA who give us a lot of equipment which is great, and Lifestyle Surf Shop who have been amazing in their support right from the beginning, giving us a beach-side base. Without their unwavering support from day one we wouldn’t be here now!
We then raise our own funds through private fundraisers in SA and the UK where we have ‘Friends of Isiqalo’ – a registered charity over there. Chris and Spike at Wavescape have also been fantastic in their support through the Wavescape Film Festival and Art Auction with proceeds going towards the course.
We then have a number of working partnerships with other NGO’s to assist with training and to ensure anyone who takes the course has immediate access to care and support. We work really closely with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation and also Grassroot Soccer.
How do the kids get to become part of the Isiqalo project?
We do presentations, awareness days, all kinds of things to increase people’s awareness of surfing. For example we’re screening a film in Masi this week as part of the Wavescape festival (Dec 10th). From there people are encouraged to sign onto the course through our partner HIV clinic in the local community from where we run the course.
What has the feedback been like from the people who’ve participated in the Isiqalo project?
It’s been really strong. As soon as they’ve stood up they’re addicted and keep coming back, so the course sees excellent attendance rates: it’s really important participants complete the whole course if we’re going to get the message through.
The more the course progresses the more the participants open up about HIV, sex and personal issues. Having an open forum at the beach is really important as the guys don’t get this at home. They also seem to respect the coaches and are increasingly open with them about personal issues which is encouraging to see. We’ve also seen two participants open up about Tik addiction and they are in the rehab process now.
How often do you run these courses?
The courses run after school, six times a week. From 2012 we’re also working with a couple of high schools and will be taking some of our games into their L.O. lessons. Most of what we do can be recreated on land, which is useful as the participants can take what they learn back to their home communities.
Who assists you with the influx of kids that have signed up for the course?
The course is now run by 3 coaches who have been in training since the end of 2010. We have Apish and Oscar from Masiphumelele and Bongani, originally from Durban but now living in Cape Town, running the sessions. It’s really important, from a sustainability point of view, that the course is run and owned by it’s participants and the local community.
As such we also focus on developing the capacity of our coaches and will spend alot of our 2012 budget on further developing their skills and basic capacities to deal with the administrative side of the course. The dream, as the movie says, is for the project to be run entirely by the local community in the not too distant future – not only educating a new generation in HIV but also developing skills and creating jobs.
Nice work Tim and Isiqalo, small steps go a long way to making this country a better place. All the best.