Chilean NGO brings surfing to underprivileged youth

Non-profit Valpo Surf Project uses surfing as tool for personal growth and environmental awareness. 

Chile-based NGO Valpo Surf Project (VSP) is gearing up for its pre-Christmas fundraiser in Santiago on Thursday, December 20. Founded in 2009 by three U.S. college graduates and one Chilean, VSP brings English language instruction from native speakers, environmental awareness and surfing to children in one underserved neighborhood in Valparaíso.
One of VSP’s co-founders Jon Steuber explained how the idea for the project came about in conversation with This is Chile.
“It was right after the fall of Lehman Brothers and the beginning of the global financial crisis. We were all at home with college degrees working less than desirable jobs with less than desirable job prospects on the horizon,” Steuber described.
“We came down to Valparaíso with hopes of teaching English and surfing a little bit. That’s when we started to form the idea of trying to create an organization like this,” he said.
From its humble beginnings, VSP has evolved to encompass hands-on English tutoring, weekend-long surf retreats, photography excursions, workshops on how to make and care for surfboards, and group beach cleanups.
VSP serves a group of 30 kids in total between the ages of 8 to 18. Twenty of the kids come from Cerro Mariposa, one of Valparaíso’s low-income neighborhoods, while the other 10 live in a state-run home.
“These kids see the ocean everyday but there’s no real connection to it. There’s kind of disconnect to the ocean,” Steuber described. VSP strives to teach its participants that “The beach is something that belongs to them as surfers and that they have an innate responsibility to look after it,” Steuber explained.
More integral to the program’s goals, however, is to foster a safe and positive environment in which this group of children can achieve personal growth.
“Surfing is a caveat and a tool to be able to teach kids aspects of character development; persistence, determination, and responsibility,” Steuber explained. “No one has learned how to surf without falling . . . a lot. To keep striving towards reaching a goal is the most fundamental lesson surfing can teach.”
VSP is in the process of raising money in a fundraising campaign called “Vanpaign.” The organization currently relies on an “informal network of borrowed cars from friends” to transport surfing gear to beach locations, while the kids walk and then take the bus, in what ends up being an hour to two hour commute.
In order to get involved financially or for information about volunteering visit their webpage. Their fundraiser in Santiago is being held on Thursday, December 20, at Zen in Providencia (Las Urbinas 44, Providencia). Proceeds will go directly to the “Vanpaign.”
Written by Gwynne Hogan