The Kovalam Surf Club runs a unique educational programme for the children of Vizhinjam Fishing Village and they have managed to make a huge impact by combining academics and surfing lessons
The first rule of Kovalam Surf Club is ‘No school, no surfing’. Every year, co-founder Mani Sreekumar finds one child who loves the waves more than the classroom. While we speak, he can be overheard convincing 8-year-old Robin to part with his surf board for the day. But he continues, undeterred. At this classroom that is on this side of the sea, this is business as usual.
The most crowded surfing area in Kovalam, one of Kerala’s most sought after surfing nooks, is also the favourite haunt for little children who slip out from their schools at mid-day. According to Mani, every surfer is used to curious little eyes watching you as you ride wave after wave. In 2005, he decided that this intrigue might just be the best way to get the children back into the classroom.
“The surf club was set up to support local kids with their education,” explains Mani. “This is for kids who are cannot afford to attend school or have discontinued their education.” It was set up under Sebastian Indian Social Projects (SISP), a non-profit founded in 1996 with the aim to improve the standards of living among the financially and socially disadvantaged sections of the people living in and around the village of Vizhinjam.
When they first set it up, social workers who worked with the organisation visited families in the village in an attempt to understand why children were dropping out of school. After identifying a number of students from the village, the programme was extended to students whose parents were willing to enrol their children. Irrespective of their grades, students are taught the requisite number of basic subjects like Mathematics and Languages. Classes and surf lessons are free of charge. Six of their students have gone on to join the International Surfing Association to become surf instructors.
Currently, 27 children are studying at the free surf school. Books, uniforms and other essentials are offered to the families by the organisation itself. Mani says, “We introduced this in an area that is surrounded by a fishing village. The parents were initially very sceptical about sending their children to us. But we’ve built a relationship with them over time. The parents comfortably head to work with the confidence that their children are safe with us.”