Humanitarian aid organisation SurfAid International and surf company Billabong have launched a unique schools program that will have far-reaching effects around the world - alleviating suffering, poverty and death in impoverished communities.

The SurfAid International Billabong Schools Program will provide a dynamic learning opportunity for students, educating them about the geography, economy, culture, health and living conditions of the 70,000 people of the Mentawai Island region, off the coast of West Sumatra, Indonesia.

The isolated location is one of the world’s most desired, tropical surfing destinations, but in the worst villages there are some of the highest child mortality rates in the world. It is also one of the most-at-risk areas globally for a large magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

The program was launched in Narrabeen, Sydney on the World Indigenous People’s Day. SurfAid International Founder and Medical Director, Dr Dave Jenkins, said the program, which will involve schoolchildren in Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Europe, was an example of the power of partnerships.

“At SurfAid we have always aimed to use the uniqueness of our mission and its relevance to the youth of today to offer them education on critical global issues such as reducing world poverty. This program makes an important contribution to that objective,” Dr Jenkins said.

“The program is the culmination of years of commitment from Billabong to our cause, both corporately and from their staff and sponsored athletes. We welcome the NSW and Australian education system, their teachers and students to this partnership.” The CEO of Billabong International Ltd, Derek O’Neill, said the schools program is an extension of Billabong’s long-term support of SurfAid.

“It’s rewarding to see SurfAid recognised for the real difference they are making to the lives of the people and children of the Mentawai Islands,” O’Neill said. “This program delivers in a way that’s both interesting and rewarding to children and their teachers.” The pilot schools for the program in Australia are from the peninsula group of schools on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Northern Sydney Education Region Director, Deonne Smith, said that the program is a good example of public school education expertise working with the non-government sector to develop a useful resource that teaches students in an interesting way about important issues in the Asia-Pacific Region.

“I am particularly pleased that teachers from the Northern Sydney Education Region were involved in developing the local Global Citizen Project, which will also be used to help bridge the gap for students moving from primary school to high school,” Smith said.