SurfAid International is a non-profit aid organisation, founded by surfing doctor Dr Dave Jenkins, dedicated to the eradication of malaria and offering health and nutrition education to the people of the Mentawai and other islands off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.
These tropical islands have some of the best waves in the world, and have been frequented by surfers on yacht charters for many years. Most of these visitors rarely go ashore, only interacting with local people when they paddle canoes out to the boats to peddle shells and trinkets.
On a shore visit Dr Dave Jenkins found the people were suffering and dying from the ravages of malaria and other preventable diseases, and decided to put something back into the communities who live in the playgrounds of the “wealthy” surfers.
Today, with the help of the Australian and New Zealand governments and other donors, SurfAid has established a network of community self help initiatives, involving local community facilitators to help villagers organise organise their own nutrition, health and hygiene awareness.
In the worst affected villages one quarter of children die before reaching the age of twelve years from preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, measles, tetanus and diarrhoea. Throughout the Mentawai’s 50% of all families lose at least one child, and 100% of families are directly or indirectly affected by malaria.
I was asked by SurfAid International to travel to the islands in May 2007 to document their work. This involved numerous plane and boat trips to reach the islands, then canoe rides up steamy jungle rivers to reach the isolated communities. The SurfAid team would work two villages at a time – one team would set up in a school, church or community hall and educate the people on how to use the mosquito nets (not use them as fishing nets, which was the case without education!) they then handed out, while another team in the other village took blood tests from the children under nine years old to test for malaria and other parasitic diseases, to be evaluated back on the mainland.
As well as nutrition, health and hygiene education, SurfAid also builds fresh water wells and sets up disaster management strategies as the region is prone to high tectonic activity – hence earthquakes are common and tsunami are not unusual and are devastating to these low lying islands.
I felt privileged work with these dedicated people, to be able to contribute to this worthwhile humanitarian cause and perhaps help alleviate some suffering in the world.