Whilst researching India and looking for some waves I came across the blog Swell Voyage by Liz Clark which in turn led me to discovering Kovalam Surf Club located in Kerala . One look at their website and I knew this was the first port of call for me when I arrived in India.
Kovalam Surf Club work in conjunction with the charity SISP (Sebastian Indian Social Project). SISP was set up by Belgian Paul Van Gelder who works to improve the lives of the poorest in the area of Vizhinjam in Kerala through education, social work and employment. The children who attend the school come from extremely poor families who live below the poverty line, sometimes the children need to work to help support the family so SISP provide the income to recover the loss of income. After a week of school the kids can surf with the club at the weekend. Their message is clear to the kids ‘No School-No Surfing’. The love for surfing and education becoming entwined.
The kids arrived at the beach at 10am on Saturday and ran straight into the sea. There was a mix of surf boards, boogie boards and rubber rings all out together. I had hours of fun giving pushes to the kids whenever they needed it and giving encouragement and whoopas. One fellow Ramesh rips and caught every wave he went for absolutely killing it, a great sight to behold.
The kids enthusiasm for the water was infectious and after having a quick break for delicious packets of rice and curry from Abhi’s Cafe it was straight back into the sea. It’s no surprise that I ended up more than a little sun-kissed from the day but the mild sunburn was totally worth it.
Helping with the kids and seeing their smiles after catching wave after wave was fantastic. I remember when I was learning to surf loving the acknowledgement of an instructor when they gave a thumbs up so I hope that they felt the same and no doubt being with the club must boost their self-esteem and confidence. I was shattered by the end of the day and ecstatic to have been in the sea with them, their energy was incredible. On Sunday it was back to the sea for more fun and frolics and a few waves for myself too.
I visited the SISP school and Jelle (Kovalam Surf Club founder and man of the sea) showed me around. I was overwhelmed and inspired by the smiles and hellos and also humbled because I know how lucky I am to come from a place where being able to attend school is easy and I come from a comfortable financial upbringing. Imagine not being able to go to school because your family are so poor that they cannot afford the school uniform or the pens and paper despite that attending the school is free.
Alongside the school SISP have a handicraft centre where beautiful products are made out of materials sourced locally such as coconut shells turned into candle holders, pen pots and sugar pots. To support the replacement of plastic bags newspapers are recycled into attractive paper bags.
Jelle showed me the room where sanitary pads are made. This was of particular interest to me as I hadn’t considered how for some buying sanitary products is incredibly difficult due to financial reasons. Through the social work SISP carried out they discovered that the women who were using material as sanitary cloths were frequently getting urinary infections. Now they have machines to turn cotton into affordable sanitary pads which can be sold for a pack of eight for 20INR (The equivalent to 20pence so 2.5p per pad).
If you’re in Kovalam be sure to check out Kovalam Surf Club’s shop which is located next to Wilson hotel behind the beach. Inside you will find all the handicraft products including lovely jewellery made from recycled paper and coconut. I nabbed myself a necklace and a KSC vest top, very happy! You can also buy all the necessaries for surfing including surfboards, wax, rash vests and board shorts.
I was thrilled to hang out at the Kovalam Surf Club and meet these wonderful people who inspire all. My five days there being in the sea with everyone, eating at Abhi’s cafe and drinking chai were fantastic and are fondly in my heart, I hope to return soon!What can you do to help? You can donate to SISP and Kovalam Surf Club, set up a direct debit, visit the centre and school, surf with the kids at the weekends and bring gifts both tangible and intangible which can enrich these families’ lives.
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