Waves for Change

Waves for Change (W4C) is a surf therapy program for at-risk youth throughout five communities in South Africa and one in Harper, Liberia. The W4C program serves predominately black communities with high crime and unemployment rates by providing a safe, emotionally supportive, and engaging environment for youth where they can learn positive social and emotional skills through surfing. RTI International partnered with W4C to reshape harmful gender norms in the community with the overall goal of promoting equitable participation regardless of gender.

Improving social and emotional skills for risk reduction

The daily exposure to violence and inequalities that many young South Africans and Liberians experience may lead to emotional and psychological stress. Without a supportive community environment, many may participate in risky behaviors that can lead to unhealthy and potentially violent relationships and other harmful life choices.

Communities that inadvertently enable harmful gender norms counteract the significance of programs such as W4C. Traditional gender norms often prevents young girls from engaging in physical activities like surfing. Additionally, young boys are often discouraged from expressing their emotions in healthy ways. These beliefs prevent both girls and boys from developing positive decision-making skills.

Through a collaborative grant with RTI International, W4C wanted to explore how to promote dialogue for greater gender equality and inclusion of girls in the program. RTI supported the W4C program identify and address gender through capacity building.

RTI International assisted W4C in counselor training, agenda and gender analyses to explore if the surf therapy program was positively impacting the beliefs of its coaches and students. The RTI team assisted in implementing a gender sensitization training for coaches and additional stuff to influence the perception of what girls and boys could both achieve.

The gender sensitization training provided 26 W4C coaches and staff with a framework to understand and encourage empowerment and empathy. The workshops also promoted gender inclusivity in the surf program. Overall, gender trainings increased the program’s coaches’ awareness of gender roles and enabled them to identify their own biased assumptions of gender and hidden power dynamics.

W4C’s coaches and staff have adopted the gender sensitive practices into their personal and professional roles, modeling inclusion and creating new social expectations for the students. Over a third more female students remained in the six-month follow-up. Defying stereotypical gender norms, W4C helped participants imagine their limitless potential. Changing deeply rooted cultural expectations allows children to explore and set their own agendas to challenge boundaries within W4C, their communities, and the world.

 “It is very important that we learn, because we’re role models to the children, so we have to know about gender and sex and what it all means and be able to act the right way for all our children.” -W4C mentor


Photo courtesy of Waves for Change Instagram