A sunny day on a Durban beach changed everything for one man after he dived into the ocean for his daily surf only to be followed by a street child, intrigued and driven by this concept of surfing waves. The seed was sewn and he realised that the action-packed sport of surfing had the potential to attract homeless children to break away from their insalubrious lifestyle and offer them an outlet that is exhilarating, high- intensity and morale building. And so the fusion of sport and mentorship was born into Durban and no one could anticipate how it would flourish.
This single incident saw the start of an organisation that is now making waves in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Waves of change and the creation of impetus to clear the streets of the youth that hold the bright future of Durban in their hands. The founder is surf extraordinaire Tom Hewitt.
Seeing innocent children scattered across the streets of Durban without shelter or a sense of protection is perhaps the most heart-wrenching notion for many to comprehend. Children taking refuge under bridges and in abandoned desolate corners is a reality- with the source being poverty. A seemingly unsolvable injustice.
Tom Hewitt was born in England, but his story expresses that he was born again in Durban. The magnitude of Tom’s presence in the lives he has touched is almost inexplicable and undeniably emotional. To so many children, he was and continues to be Durban’s modern day superhero. A man that has taken away desperation, fear, hunger and grief and replaced it with purpose. Tom is an award winner, a recognised advocate, and MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) recipient from Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II.
It began some 20 years ago when Tom became brutally aware of the street situation in Durban. Recognising the difficult conditions and the growing population of homeless children fighting for survival, struggling with illness, delving into the dark world of drugs and gang violence and an impending sense of inevitable doom, the calling for change could not be ignored. It is no secret that the streets of Durban are no place for a child. During the Soccer World Cup, the act of ‘round ups’ became obvious to Tom as children were blatantly shoved to areas away from the spotlight in order to dissolve what was considered an embarrassment. What happens to these children at night and how does this trauma murder the inner spirit of a little human being?
In 2004, Tom and his wife Bulelwa founded Umthombo with the goal to rescue children from the streets and assist them on a journey to creating a meaningful life. The organisation was incredibly successful seeing a multiplicity of children mentored and grown into ambassadors for this beautiful province we call home. The year 2012 saw the beginning of a sports and mentorship programme that would soon be perceived as revolutionary known as Surfers Not Street Children.
Tom Hewitt MBE, in the touching Coca-Cola’s short film: Tom Hewitt’s Story – Surfing with Street Kids (Film by Alan Irvin) explained,
“I’ve always loved the ocean. It’s where I go to get lost. When I go surfing it lets me be a kid again. It sets me free. This gave me an idea. A crazy idea. If I could teach these children to surf would it change their future? Would it let them be kids again? Would it set them free?”
The organisation is now established with a headquarters (The Surfhouse) in downtown Durban with a family of staff that have a shared vision of rescuing the youth and reinstating their self-worth. It is a touching and meaningful experience as Tom stands on the shore-lines looking out at the children he has mentored and grown into strong men and women. They are talented surfers and their futures are as forceful and inspiring as the waves that form the foundations of their lives. Surfing through life, the family that Tom has built is growing rapidly as the children grow into role models and ambassadors for the new lives that are to be touched.
“Jumping off the peer is like jumping off the street to a new life of living”- Sihle Mbutho (Surfer)
Tom’s journey of advocacy for children is far from over as he continues to lead by example with his continued efforts to focus on the plight of (and the rights of) street children. His emphasis on mentorship, education, honing in on life skills, providing addiction counselling as well as psychotherapy is all part of the Surf not Street Children programme- essentially leading to job creation and inspired comradery.
“Surfing is now life to them. It’s in everything they do. It gives them purpose… I can see it in their faces, in their eyes and their smiles… If a crazy idea can change the lives of these children- then call me crazy”- Tom Hewitt MBE (Coca- Cola’s short film: Tom Hewitt’s Story- Surfing with Street Kids). □
Credit: Coca Cola’s short film: Tom Hewitt’s Story – Surfing with Street Kids
(Film by Alan Irvin)