Humanitarian organization SurfAid International is proud to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year after starting with a small malaria program in one village in the Mentawai Islands, off Indonesia’s Sumatran coast, in 2000.
“By living in a pilot village in the remote Mentawai Islands we soon learned that by using drama and song we could facilitate behavior change among the community. Within nine months we had more than 90 per cent of the village sleeping under mosquito nets,” SurfAid founder Dr Dave Jenkins said.
Over the past 10 years, SurfAid has worked in more than 300 villages in the Mentawai and Nias island chain and also more recently in Padang, the regional capital of West Sumatra, after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the city last September.
The scope of SurfAid’s work has increased from malaria prevention to now include water and sanitation, disaster preparedness, and community health programs.
In 2007, SurfAid was awarded the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO) Humanitarian Award, after being chosen from more than 49,000 not-for-profits worldwide.
“SurfAid has always been about creating lasting change, not patch-ups which don’t work for long,” Dr Dave said.
“Although we did not appreciate it at the time, one of the best things that happened at the beginning was our complete lack of money other than what we had ourselves and through endless volunteer days and small donations from our friends and families.
“This made us study what could be the best return to our donors and clearly the science was telling us to look at some of the basic behaviors that we take for granted – breastfeeding correctly, washing hands, feeding your child some fruit and vegetables, and sleeping under a mosquito net makes a huge difference.”
SurfAid’s research shows that nearly one in 10 Mentawai children do not make it to the age of five. In industrialized countries, on average, there are six deaths for every 1,000 live births.
It was seeing the tiny graves in the village of Katiet while on a surf trip back in October 1999 that set Dr Dave on his mission to establish SurfAid.
“We were anchored off a village and I went in to have a look around. When the chief found out I was a doctor he asked me to come back and see some people. I returned with a small medical kit and 200 people were waiting.
“We had quite an emotional afternoon coming to terms with the state of health there, seeing desperate children who were sick. They had worms, were anemic, and had pot bellies from malnutrition. One woman with pneumonia was brought to me in a wheelbarrow. She died later that night. Whole families were wasting away with pneumonia.”
Today Dr Dave is proud that SurfAid:
• Has distributed nearly 60,000 specially treated mosquito nets and malaria education to more than 300 villages in some of the remotest areas in the world stretching along hundreds of kilometers of rough seas from northern Simeulue to the southern Mentawai
• Has expanded from the initial malaria program to encompass hygiene, sanitation, nutrition, clean water projects, pregnancy and birthing, and immunization
• Is always looking to engage communities to help themselves and build local capacity
• Has responded to four large emergencies, including the Asian Tsunami, despite never being established as an emergency response organization
• Has helped communities extensively prepare for emergencies
• Has defined a uniquely positive example of responsible tourism and cross cultural partnership
• Is encouraging global citizenship through our schools program which is now in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Dr Dave said: “We have had incredible support from a range of individuals, the surfing industry, government aid organizations and the United Nations and we thank everyone for their support and goodwill. They have all demanded a very high degree of professionalism, commitment and transparency and we are all the better for it.
“When it comes to helping more kids not only survive but thrive and reach their potential we are unashamedly ambitious and we are now ready to take our work to more villages and new areas where there is great need,” he said.
“With your help we can wipe out millions of days of extreme childhood suffering permanently. I think contributing to that mission has to be the coolest thing anyone can do.”
You can read more about SurfAid’s programs, participate in upcoming events, and donate at www.surfaidinternational.org