I am pretty sure almost every surfer would agree that riding waves has made a strong positive impact on their lives. Many will point to the fact that while they are in the ocean, nothing else in life seems to matter. Here, they can easily forget many of life’s troubles and return to the beach relaxed with a clear mind. This may appear trivial to some non-surfers, but this form of escapism (or truly living in the moment) is what makes surfing addictive and keeps many paddling back out for just one more wave.
I believe that this has been the case for many children who have lived at Misión México, where I have spent the last six months volunteering. While Misión México is predominately a refuge for abused, abandoned and neglected children, what is truly unique about the charity is that they have provided a home and education for over 250 children as well as giving these children the gift of surfing with beach visits every weekend. The mission is based in Tapachula, in the southern state of Chiapas near the border of Guatemala.
Misión México was originally founded in 2001. In November 2000 Alan and Pamela Skuse came to Mexico to volunteer at a children’s refuge with a plan to stay for one year, however six months after arriving the refuge was set to close down due to lack of funding, with the seven children living there at risk of being returned to life on the streets once again. Despite having six of their own children living in Australia, Alan and Pam decided to stay in Tapachula and start their own refuge. Starting with little resources and relying on donations, they have built modern, safe, and secure facilities that currently house 32 children and up to eight volunteers. As the children become young adults they have the opportunity to move offsite into the Youth Transition Program where they continue their education and learn essential life skills to prepare them for independent living. A number of the young adults living independently receive university funding, allowing them to undertake further studies. Meanwhile, some are part of the work and training program. Arguably, the children living in Misión México are much better off than many of the children living in and around Tapachula who may never have access to such opportunities.
With my arrival at Misión México in February of 2016, I instantly went from having no children of my own to taking part in caring for and supervising 32 children between 5-18 years old. On arrival, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that their upbringing was no different than yours or mine, but beneath the broad smiles and cheeky laughter often lies a troubled past. Each child brings with them a unique and often shockingly sad story of life before arriving atMisión. Many of them have been directly affected by the complex issues surrounding extreme poverty and crime. These beautiful children have been affected by everything from life on the streets, abandonment, extreme physical and even sexual abuse. They’ve seen and experienced horrors that no child should ever face. Despite all that, these children strive to leave their pasts behind them. It was almost too easy for me to forget their backgrounds as they are more well behaved and respectful than many Western children I have encountered. The kids are full of character, unique personalities, and charm. Often you will find yourself half trying to discipline one while half trying not to laugh at their hilarious antics at the same time. You will find some children will warm to you immediately, some may take more time, and some may just never warm to you at all. A child may be your best friend one day and your arch nemesis the next… but I suppose kids will just be kids, right? What really blew me away about these special children is the kindness they show one another, from unconditionally sharing all they have to consoling and supporting each other if one is going through a difficult time.
Misión México was the first to introduce surfing to this rarely surfed region of the country thanks to Alan Skuse and his sons over fifteen years ago. The power and positivity of surfing are things I strongly relate to and is what really drew me to volunteering here in the first place. Sure the challenges these children face may still be there when they set feet back on the sand, but for maybe one of the few times in their short lives they may have something truly positive to fall back on. Beach days at Misión México were definitely some of my favorite times while I volunteered, watching children from all ages enjoy the ocean and the waves.
While the waves might not be world class, they can definitely be super fun on their day with fun punchy beach breaks and short rock wall point breaks. As with much of Mexico, there is swell year round, super warm water, and offshore winds virtually every morning. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to surf with the older kids on Saturday mornings if you are not on shift and the option to visit the beach on mornings and days off. Even if you don’t surf, the kids will be more than happy to give you lessons and laugh with you while you learn. An amazing country, amazing people, and uncrowded waves; what’s not to love?
Editor’s Note: If you are passionate about surfing and would love to do something positive while you travel then please visit www.lovelifehope.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the volunteer program. Volunteers must be over 21 and commit to a 6-week minimum volunteering period.