Timothy Conibear

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 2015


This profile was prepared when Timothy Conibear was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Tim created a non-profit organization called Isiqalo, a local language name meaning ‘the beginning’, with Waves for Change (W4C) as its flagship program. The core of Tim’s innovation revolves around a comprehensive curriculum-based methodology within Waves for Change (W4C) with three distinct levels that together create an integrated network of youth and peers empowered to provide emotional support to each other through traumatic experiences and offer mentorship and guidance for positive life choices. The modules are drawn from the principles of cognitive behaviour and humanistic approaches to therapy, and are fused with surfing: a sport considered foreign in most coastal townships and whose natural aesthetic recruits the most vulnerable young adults to W4C programming. The W4C programme helps individuals open up, understand their present situation and develop competencies to cope with emotional trauma and forge forward positively under the guidance of a new, supportive peer group.

Tim engages a network of schools, community leaders and other community based organizations working with the youth as referral points for young people exhibiting symptoms of being at risk (like emotional symptoms, difficulty regulating behaviour, problems with concentration and learning and involvement in anti-social peer groups) or who are known to have gone through traumatic experiences (death in the family, divorce, violence, abuse). Key contacts like teachers, principals and community volunteers are identified and trained on how to recognize symptoms of emotional trauma in young people and refer them to the program.

These are then introduced to the entry level of the W4C curriculum as Participants and exposed to structured modules that help stabilize the individual, re-attach their emotions and enhance their coping skills so they can ‘find themselves’ once again using the challenging sport of surfing, within an integrated network of peers from similar backgrounds. This follows an evidence based 1.5 years curriculum which helps each individual to explore his/her emotions, recognize behavioral triggers and develop alternative coping strategies. Young people who successfully complete this phase graduate into weekend surf clubs, offering prolonged involvement in W4C and an opportunity to enter the next level of training: Elders. This phase is embedded in the principles of African value leadership to create empathy and mentorship skills in young adults who will then be able to assume the role of societal ‘elders’ (senior members of the society) and be able to reach out and provide emotional support and guidance to younger members in the community. This is also a 1.5 years program which boosts the understanding of basic emotional, physical, spiritual and cognitive needs of a child and explores the role that a senior mentor can play in supporting an individual to make positive life choices. Elders then graduate into another phase where they are trained to become Coaches. This is now a 2 year accredited training course that empowers individuals to understand what emotional wellbeing of a child is in their local context, the underlying problems exposing young people to traumatic experiences in the communities, local emotional health resources existing and available to the communities and interventions that can be locally created or mobilized within the communities. Coaches are trained to form referral networks and liaise with key contact points in the community who then refer young people into the program.

The course enables coaches to gain a Grade 12 (Matric) qualification in Child and Youth Care work, allowing coaches to reinforce the child protection services available to youth in their community.

It also allows coaches to run the whole W4C program independently and manage the whole methodology and this is part of W4C’s scale out strategy. Further, the coaches phase opens various career opportunities for the young adults as they come out with additional skills in child care and support, counselling, surf-coaching, leadership, program management and delivery, first-aid and life-saving.

The W4C program started in 2012 and is currently engaging 16 coaches, 25 elders and 250 participants in the entry level course. Isiqalo is running the program in 3 coastal townships of Cape Town working with 6 schools and 3 community based organizations. Through its network of coaches, elders and community key contacts, W4C reaches out to almost 300 young people experiencing emotional trauma per week both within and outside the program contexts.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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