Think of surfing – a rolling wave and whitewater skimmed by a skittering board and balanced rider. That iconic impression and a legacy of dudes, the Beach Boys and blondes is not what this post is about. This is about real action that a group of surfers and you too can take to help stop Ebola.
The sport isn’t usually associated with social causes but a group of San Diego State School of Tourism and Hospitality graduate students have married their love of the perfect wave with nurturing sustainable tourism.
They’ve seen surf tourism gone bad – locals leaving their farms to build too much, too quickly and too close to the beach. Without sewage treatment or infrastructure, things can go wrong quickly attracting drugs and prostitution, overcrowding and a seething frustration toward the visiting surfers. They’ve seen the inequality of outside investors ravaging underdeveloped beach resort sites and doing little to enhance local lives.
Over the past two years Sean Brody and Daniel Hopkins have toiled to get it right this time in a community ravaged by war and unemployment to create the Kwepunha Retreat in Liberia. They’ve built a resort with a gentle environmental footprint to promote tourism but also provide jobs and education. The founders poured savings and worked with a small group of investors to re-condition abandoned buildings and open a 12-bedroom hostel as well as a four-bedroom house. With 15% of profits going into the community, there have been junior lifeguard classes, beach cleanups and school tutoring lessons. More than a dozen positions have been created, an impressive achievement in a country with an 85 % unemployment rate. The surf center has drawn visitors from more than forty countries eager to tackle the endless left-hand break, dip into the eighty degree water and enjoy the inexpensive, all inclusive daily rates.
A perfect picture of success?
It was looking so. “We were seeing people improve their lives” Brody has said.
Until the Ebola outbreak, which hasn’t affected Robertsport but is moving through other parts of the country. Now no one is traveling to Liberia unless they have to. When the Peace Corps pulled its volunteers out in July, Brody and Hopkins knew they’d have to close the resort – at least temporarily.
But ties to the community remain strong and they’ve launched a campaign to keep resort employees engaged for at least 6 months and help stop Ebola.
A little goes a long way in Roberstsport where a monthly salary of $80 allows one worker to support four to six others. They also organized twenty college students from Kriterion Monrovia to work in the community, to talk about the disease, its spread and how to stay safe. They’re working against mistrust of the government, of outsiders and admit that even when the outbreak is over, the stigma of Ebola will remain to inhibit tourism.
But that glorious ocean break and perfect temperatures will remain until Brody and Hopkins return. Help them support the community and fight the inequality to stop Ebola with a donation to the Rise Above Ebola, Go Fund Me campaign here.
Written in support of Blog Action Day 2015
#BAD2014 #Inequality #BlogAction
Listen to an interview from The Gathering Road podcast with Dr. Jess Ponting of SustainableSurf.org He speaks about creating a new generation of travel activists with surfing as the medium and Groundswell Travel. He founded the Center for Surf Research and its programs for the world’s first sustainable surf and snow resorts certification and a study abroad program.