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Surf charity works towards eradicating malaria.

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7.30 Report Surf charity works towards eradicating malaria


Surf charity works towards eradicating malaria

Broadcast: 02/12/2008


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: When it first began, there was considerable doubt that a bunch of surfers could ever successfully run an aid organisation. But several years on, SurfAid is not only winning awards for its disaster response programs, but is well on its way to making the Mentawai Islands in Malaysia malaria-free for their 70,000 residents. It's a remarkable achievement for a small organisation whose support comes largely from the surfing industry.

Sharon O'Neill reports.

SHARON O'NEILL, REPORTER: It's a warm Saturday afternoon and Dr Dave Jenkins is taking time out for a quick surf on Sydney's northern beaches.

DAVE JENKINS, SURFAID: Surfing for me is like a mix of our, sort of, spiritual, physical, mental journey, really.

SHARON O'NEILL: But surfing has become a luxury for Dr Dave Jenkins - he's too busy running the charity SurfAid.

DAVE JENKINS: I've surrendered to this commitment and I'll do it till the day I die.

SHARON O'NEILL: In 1999, Dave Jenkins and some friends came here to the Mentawai Islands. This part of Indonesia is a surfer's Mecca and every year thousands hire charter boats to take advantage of these truly unique waves. When Dave Jenkins took time out from his corporate medical job in Singapore to holiday here, he did what few other tourists do: he went to have a look around in the villages on the mainland.

DAVE JENKINS: I went to a village and started to see the children weren't well; a lot of pot belly, a lot of malnourishment. And, I start asking questions about the health and walked past the graveyard and just saw all these little graves and I went, "Oh my God. You know, there's something really happening here that shouldn't be happening."

SHARON O'NEILL: What was happening in these villages the children and their parents were dying from preventable diseases.

DAVE JENKINS: The boat that night was very quiet - very quiet. We sat around just wondering. I mean, it was - the tone changed on the boat.

SHARON O'NEILL: For Dave Jenkins, it was a life-changing moment and within a year, SurfAid was born.

The idea was to run a community development organisation funded by the surfing industry.

DAVE JENKINS: Who else was going to help these islands? And of course we were aware that the surfing corporates were all taking their movies there. And so, yes, we were hoping, well, one, if we were willing to contribute, maybe they would, and who else would do it? So, I don't think we had much choice, really.

HARRY HODGE, QUICKSILVER FOUNDATION: We're having such good success and it's a feeling pride that in a surfing area which is so unique and so important to the surf industry that we can actually have a positive effect.

SHARON O'NEILL: Tonight, Dave Jenkins is in Sydney talking to a who's who of the surfing industry. He's keen to trumpet SurfAid's achievements and to remind them more needs to be done.

DAVE JENKINS: Because we really have got this malaria thing down. You know, we've got plays and it's exciting to see we know how to really trigger a community.

SHARON O'NEILL: One of SurfAid's first priorities was to significantly reduce the prevalence of malaria in the Mentawai Islands. To do this, they developed education strategies like this role play. Here, the locals get a rare opportunity to laugh at the village chief. In the process, they also learn about what causes

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malaria and how to prevent it by using the mosquito nets provide by SurfAid.

DAVE JENKINS: The fundamental building blocks of health that we all take for granted, they don't that have that; they don't understand that. So, it's really challenging for us just to start to get them to think about these things.

SHARON O'NEILL: Last year, these remote islands were severely impacted when two major earthquakes struck the region. Almost 30,000 people lost their homes. SurfAid was in a unique position to respond quickly to the disaster, as they had been when the tsunami hit the region in 2004. The work done by SurfAid well and truly established the organisation's credibility.

DAVE JENKINS: We always have this bias: how could a bunch of surfers get organised, you know? We did 20,000 measles immunisations - or some crazy number for a small organisation. Then we - people started saying, "Well, who is this outfit?"

SHARON O'NEILL: The SurfAid story and its work in Indonesia is now being rolled out in Australian schools as part of the year eight geography syllabus. Here at Barrenjoey High School on Sydney's northern beaches, the students are learning about the lives that have been changed through the initiatives of a bunch of surfers.

KERRY MCEWAN, GEOGRAPHY TEACHER: A lot of the students in this class or their parents have been to those islands surfing - many of them not even gone on to the island. And so when the students start to study what's going on the islands, the parents are talking to me saying, "Wow. I didn't - you know, I had no idea that was happening."

SHARON O'NEILL: Like many of the programs run by SurfAid, this school's program is sponsored by the surfing industry. But in these difficult financial times, there's concern about just how much money will flow into charitable organisations.

KIM SUNDELL, COASTALWATCH CHAIRMAN: I think philanthropy everywhere will suffer. I mean - and, you know, advertising. And we're seeing that people just don't have that capacity to give us much. And when there's that much, I guess, financial distress out there, you know, giving is one of the first things to suffer.

SHARON O'NEILL: Dave Jenkins knows the challenges ahead. But in the past eight years, he's become used to facing difficult times and has learned to remain optimistic.

DAVE JENKINS: If you look at major changes in humanity, transformational changes, it's at times like this that the world goes, "You know what? Untethered greed is a bad thing. Giving and helping children live is a good thing. Let's do more of that."

KERRY O'BRIEN: Sounds more than fair. That report from Sharon O'Neill.

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