Appreciate All You Have - Surfer's Path

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Appreciate All You Have

By Kirk Willcox

Photos by Bob Barker/RovingEye:

Eating in Indonesia is always an interesting and mostly enjoyable experience. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re eating, but it sure tastes good. Take the lamb, or what I thought was lamb. It was, in fact, goat. It’s very good, but I wasn’t so sure about the kidney bits.

SurfAid Program and Medical Director, Dr Dave Jenkins, said: “It took Europeans 700 years to change their deaths rates of 200/1000 to 1-3/1000. We hope to get it down below 50 in four years.”

Now working for SurfAid International as their Communications Director, and based in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra – from where most of the boat charters leave for the Mentawai Islands – I’m getting the chance to really experiment with my food, and anyone who knows me, knows not to get between me and a plate.

Recently I decided to check out a different warung near my house. The food is displayed in a small wooden cabinet on the street, with glass windows and a curtain at the back to keep out the flies. You see these all over Indonesia.

SurfAid malaria parasite test of a young Mentawain baby.

The warung had a cleanly swept floor and clean plastic tablecloths, so on my barometer that means the food is usually well prepared and good. So I surveyed the cabinet and there was a plate of fried chicken, another of beef rendang (the local spicy meat), vegetables, and only one fly. Looking good. Then the plate in the righthand corner started to move … one small cat having a good ol’ feast on the fried fish. Well, you couldn’t blame him.

I ate there anyway, though the fish had now gone out the back, and the cat had trucked off for another free feed somewhere. It was a fine meal. So what does this all have to do with SurfAid?

Well, we went out to villages in the “field”, the Mentawai, with our international board and senior management in February, and there are kids out there eating just a bowl of rice, nothing else. Their parents don’t know they need some vegetables more than once every two or three weeks, and some fruit.

The Community Care Groups teach households in the village about breast-feeding, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, composting, etc.

One little guy was so stunted from chronic malnutrition that he was the size of a one-year-old – and yet he was three-and-a-half years old. His mother fished while the father stayed home to mind their three kids, but she’s selling the fish and not feeding enough to her kids. SurfAid Program and Medical Director, Dr Dave Jenkins, said the boy will be permanently stunted and his brain development will also be affected for life – so he’ll be slow learning things at school, a vicious cycle. And while I hoed into my lunch, I couldn’t help but think that this little guy had been dealt a pretty raw deal, not from being deprived of love but just through a lack of education.

SurfAid has a number of programs and one is to try to fix this situation by educating the mothers about nutrition, that they should exclusively breastfeed until a baby is six-months-old, and showing them how to compost and grow vitamin gardens, so that the health changes are sustainable.

You can learn more on our website –

SurfAid Community Facilitator Yeanne explains a pie chart of why the villagers’ children are dying in Silabu – all from preventable causes.

Since the board/management trip in February, photographer Bob Barker, from, and I have been out in the field for three weeks documenting some of our programs in the Mentawai, Nias and Hinako islands.

Since March this year, SurfAid teams have distributed more than 9,000 specially treated mosquito nets, with malaria education. This program has initially been funded by Billabong, NZAID and Lonely Planet but we need to raise more money as we’re trying to reach 203 villages out there. The program runs until 2011.

Treating a malnourished, anaemic baby in the village of Betumonga.

Seventy thousand people live in the Mentawai and up to 50 per cent carry the malaria parasite at any one time and it is responsible for many deaths and extensive suffering. Malaria weakens the immune system, turning other common illnesses, like diarrhoea and chest infections, into killers.

We also went to Katiet village, the home of Lance’s Right, to check on the progress of the model house/garden project funded by Quiksilver.

Other surf companies have joined our Adopt-A-Village program. In the worst villages, up to 50 per cent of families lose a child by the age of five from treatable and preventable diseases such as malaria, measles, tetanus and diarrhoea.

If you wish to donate, you can do so online at

To everyone who has contributed, companies and individuals, on behalf of our team and the people without a voice out there, terima kasih banyak – thank you very much.

Kindergarten children in the Hinakos.


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