The Bulungula Incubator is located in one of the most rural parts of the Mbhashe municipality, which is one of the poorest in South Africa (according to latest census results.) With poor road infrastructure, limited access to health care, no electricity or running water, the area epitomises the most acute poverty challenges of the country, and the globe at large. Moreover, there are no local mental and emotional health support services, compounding these issues. 

Research shows that poverty, neglect, housing instability, violence, food insecurity and separation from parents all affect childhood development – and thus, lifelong health. Although children are born to learn and grow, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) from traumatic events can cause toxic stress. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACEs have been directly linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. 

Bongezwa Sontundu, the BI Health & Nutrition Programme Manager, believes that we must have better mental health support so that community members can receive quality care when facing challenges. She noted that just this week, our Home-Based Care Workers had to refer a 14 year old boy to a psychologist at Madweleni Hospital because he is not coping well after his father was murdered in a shebeen fight a couple of months ago. 

Sadly, traumatic events like this have impacted many youth in our community. While toxic stress can change the brain’s structure, the brain can also re-adjust through neuroplasticity, often as a result of positive, psychosocial experiences. 

To increase community-based support for our youth, Thatha iLiza uses surf therapy to promote mental and emotional wellness and wellbeing. A part of The Wave Alliance, Thatha iLiza uses an evidence-based curriculum to provide mental health services through the creation of safe space, caring mentors, supportive peer groups, and weekly surf therapy sessions. The curriculum has been proven to decrease violent and risky behaviour, improve resilience to trauma and coping skills, improve happiness and self confidence, and improve engagement at home and at school. 

Thatha iLiza Team

“Thatha iLiza brings unity to the young people, keeps them away from drugs, motivates them to be patient, and encourages them to not quit school. It teaches youth about creating safe space, gender equality, respect, confidence and how to deal with stress and anger”

– Samora Dodwana, Thatha iLiza Coach

Furthermore, the surf sessions allow for critical water safety lessons. Located along the Wildcoast, our beaches have many dangerous rip currents and ocean predators, with limited access to life-guarding services or health care facilities in the case of an emergency. Before each session, the coaches teach and review with the surfers rip current identification, condition identification, and what to do if someone is caught in a rip current. These assessments inform Thatha iLiza Team if it is safe or not to run the surf session for the day.

Beyond support for youth in our community, Coach Samora Dodwana describes how the project has made him fall in love with the water, improve his personal skills such as leadership and problem solving, identify safe spots on the beach to swim, and build strong relationships with others. He envisions the project flourishing in the future to someday produce high performance athletes and put Bulungula on the surf map. 

Thatha iLiza Surfer meditating before surf lesson

To support and help expand Thatha iLiza, you can contribute in-kind, or get in touch with Ryan Banks at