Out Of Africa
…A day for the Street Kids
British wave sailor Vickey Abbott has made the beautiful island of Sal, Cape Verde her home. With her own business on the island Vickey has both, fully settled into Cape Verde life and been able to score some incredible windsurfing conditions. Whilst it is usually the reef breaks you here about from CV, Vickey has a slightly different story to tell.
Back at the very beginning of this year, I found myself dealing with some particularly wealthy, arrogant and selfish clients. They were importing some luxury sports goods and wanted them yesterday. They didn’t care how much they paid and were prepared to bribe every man and his goat. The crunch moment came as we drove past a slum and this guy had the audacity to say ‘surely customs must feel some sympathy for me, I want to use my boat before I finish my holiday’. I had to bite my tongue to prevent me from retorting that as most of the customs officials don’t yet have running water in their houses, they were highly unlikely to consider his problem of importance. What’s more it irritated me immensely that he would assume all the officials would be open to bribes. My experience here has been quite the opposite; in fact the Cape Verdeans are extremely proud people and take offence to bribery and any suggestion that they are corrupt.
Right then in that moment I decided my new year’s resolution would be to have a social conscience and to try to put back into the community. I learnt to windsurf and surf here and feel that the ocean here is an important part of life on the island. I decided to try and share some of that passion with the local community.
Since living here the bi-polar nature of Cape Verde frequently surprises me. Santa Maria has grown from a tiny fishing village to a large tourist town. It now boasts multiple hotels, apartment complexes and modern developments, yet right beside that you have people living in cardboard boxes and hand built houses, collecting their water daily in jerry cans. The town has maintained its charm and the Cape Verdean people, even those with nothing, are always happy and laughing. One of the main growth sectors has been the water sports industry. From just a couple of small windsurf centres the town now has multiple windsurf centres, Kite schools, Surf schools, diving centres and Jet ski rentals. This has opened up a whole new sector of employment for the local population and thus was born the idea to try to teach some of the local street children to windsurf. In doing this, hopefully, some of them will gain access to employment that would otherwise elude them.
Friday June 1st was international children’s day, celebrated in Cape Verde with a bank holiday. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce windsurfing and water sports to 30 children, from the charity Castelos do Sal. These children come from various deprived and / or neglected backgrounds in Santa Maria and are generally left to fend for themselves in streets during the day. Castelos do Sal is doing fantastic work ensuring that the children go to school and that after school they participate in extracurricular activities and receive food and health care.
In January I met with the charity staff to propose the idea; a day of water sports and beach activities for all the children. Although ½ of the children (despite living not even 100meters from the sea) are unable to swim, we decided that it would be perfectly possible to arrange a day on the beach for all of them. Club Mistral and Surf zone agreed to close for the event and provide us with windsurfing equipment and their teaching staff for the day.
So, on Friday morning, we collected the first group of 15 extremely excited children. They leapt into the back of the two awaiting pickups with much singing and cheering, all the way through town and over to Club Mistral.
All the kids had a taste of windsurfing; those that could swim actually had introductory lessons whilst those who couldn’t swim had the chance to sail out and around the bay sat on the boards with an instructor.
The jet ski rescue cover soon became the hit of the day, stealing the lime light as every child had a go. Surf boards were given to those kids not out windsurfing and they soon busied themselves playing in the small shore break. Whether they could swim or not, it didn’t seem to make any difference as they dived into the sea. We had some off water activities which provided plenty of entertainment for those that tired of the sea, with hula hoops, juggling and beach kite flying.
After 3 hours there were plenty of huge grins and exhausted children.
This kid was so keen to go windsurfing he convinced me he could swim and then once on the water he was almost crying but with such a huge grin on his face as he told me he couldn’t swim.......... he was actually very good at windsurfing!
At 2pm we collected another group of the younger children equally excited and even more hyped up after hearing all the details from the mornings group. This time Surfzone had closed their centre and provided the equipment and staff. Although the children were a little younger they got stuck into windsurfing and surfing with matching enthusiasm. Again the jet ski was the main hit but we also had sand castle building competitions and other beach games that soon wore all of them and indeed us out.
Many thanks to every volunteer that came down to help, to Club Mistral and Surfzone for putting aside the time, staff and equipment for all the children and to Sal Beach Club and Hotel Morabezza for providing much needed drinks and snacks for the children.
The day was a great success, the children were exceptionally well behaved and most importantly all seemed to have a great time, which was the aim of the day.
Hopefully we will be able to repeat this again soon and to raise some money to purchase equipment so that Castelos do Sal can incorporate water sports activities into the extracurricular activities on a more permanent basis.