The founding of SurfAid by Dr Dave Jenkins
The SurfAid story started back in 1999 on a regular surf trip to the chain of islands off the coast of Sumatra, the Mentawais. The region is home to 70,000 people and some of the most perfect reef surf breaks the world has to offer. I was a career-focused doctor working out of Singapore taking a break from a stressful corporate directorship and arrived in the islands with the aim of feeding myself upon the buffet of tropical waves on offer. I wasn’t disappointed.
However, late one afternoon, on what I thought would be a harmless tourist venture inland to one of the villages, my beliefs in what is important in life were changed forever. After walking past the graveyard and seeing a lot of very small graves I ended up running a clinic at the chief’s request. I was the first doctor ever to visit the village. I saw women and children dying from malaria, malnutrition and inadequate living standards – things that I knew were treatable and, better still, preventable by helping them change behaviours such as basic hygiene and better breastfeeding practices.
The scene haunted me for the rest of the trip, and followed me back to Singapore where I began questioning my life. Did it have meaning? Were my skills wasted chasing some corporate carrot? What if I could make a real difference to these people? The thought of more children dying drove me mad with frustration and helplessness yet, at the same time and in some strange way, the potential solutions inspired me. I couldn’t just walk away from those kids; I vowed to return to the Mentawai with people and supplies.
After wrestling with my voices of self-interest, I left my job and headed home to a new challenge and called upon two of my closest friends – Dr Steve Hathaway, a world renowned public health specialist, and lawyer Phil Dreifuss . It was not only because they were mates but because I knew they had most of the talent that I lacked and that if they said yes, SurfAid had a fighting chance.
Within days we were diving for crayfish to entice the local surfing crew to a barbecue where they were sprung with the news that a quorum of 25 people was needed to sign up and pay $25 each to register as a legal non-profit in New Zealand. They signed, we paid, and in January 2000 SurfAid was born full of shared hopes and dreams and crazy, overly ambitious plans.