An interview with Benjamin Joubert
By Mary Flemming
Mary Flemming is from Crested Butte, Colorado, USA. In September and October 2013 she volunteered with The Surfer Kids NON-Profit Program, with the help of Unravel Surf Travel Outreach. She was the program’s first international volunteer. She gave Yoga, Computer and English Classes at Friemersheim Primary School during the week and over weekends she worked with The Surfer Kids NON-Profit Program on the beach, helping the kids to learn surfing. In her spare time she also helped some Friemersheim locals with their gardening.
Benjamin Joubert is one of four Trustee’s of The Surfer Kids NON-Profit. He has also been the Program’s Community Coordinator since its inception in November 2010. He lives in Friemersheim with his wife and two sons, all of whom are keen participants in the program. His oldest son, Marchall, will turn 16 in 2014 and he is currently undergoing training to become a Program Assistant for The Surfer Kids NON-Profit.
Mary Flemming: Can please tell us a bit about your background?
Benjamin Joubert: My name is Bennie, short for Benjamin. I was born in Friemersheim in 1974. I grew up here, finished primary school and went to high school in nearby Great-Brak River. I was the youngest of nine children.
My mother still lives here in Friemersheim. She runs a little shop from a window in her house. People around here know her as Auntie Pop. Some of my brothers still stay here in Friemersheim. We are all contract workers. My three sisters are married and live in George and Johannesburg. We see each other once a year when they come to visit my mother on Christmas.
When I finished school I started working to support my mother. She was in her late sixties. Eight years later I met Stephanie and we had our first son, Marchall. Four years later we were married and had our youngest son Stephan.
I met Hermann and Jenya after Marchall turned 12.
Mary: How did you first meet Jenya and Hermann and become involved with the Surfer Kids Non-Profit?
Bennie: Hermann first met my mother at her window-shop. He asked her how he could get the local kids involved in a surfing outreach program.
My mother then arranged a meeting between Hermann and her neighbour, who was a teacher at the primary school. That teacher then introduced Hermann to the principal. The principal invited Hermann to come speak with the kids in grade six and seven. He had them write some essays to see if they were interested in the surfing. Based on those essays and the recommendations of the principal, Hermann chose four children to go surfing with him the first time.
My oldest son Marchall was part of that group of four kids. Hermann asked if the parents would come to the beach with the kids, to see what their kids are doing. I went the very first time and he showed me how to help and push the kids into waves. When we left the beach he asked if I would come again the next time. From there it just went on.
The first time I went into the ocean I was like “WOW!” this is too much water for me! But the kids they go just go deeper and deeper. They always want another one! Every wave is like the next best chocolate on the market, and they all want a taste!
I have a photo that Jenya took of me. I was sitting on the rocks watching Hermann with the kids in the waves and I remember thinking “What is this man doing with our kids? I don’t trust that stuff…”
But two lessons later I was loving it! Whenever I am finished helping with the kids I jump on a surfboard and go surfing myself! Hermann even pushed me into a few waves and showed me the pop ups. Now I really enjoy surfing!
During the first year together we all got really close and the program started to grow. Surfing wasn’t something that all the kids enjoyed, but then we always had other kids who wanted to surf. First we took kids from ages ten to fourteen and later we started taking younger ones.
My youngest son Stephan was the youngest kid in the program for a long time. He was seven when he went surfing for the first time. Now there are more, maybe five, younger kids who come with us every time. The youngest ones are five or six.
There is good progress. I can see it every time we go to the beach. At the moment we are struggling with transport and funds for the program. But we will keep going on. We raise some funds by ourselves, in Friemersheim, and we get some funds from the Surf Tours organized by Hermann and Jenya. We will keep going on.
Mary: What is your current role in the Surfer Kids Non-Profit?
Bennie:Here in Friemersheim I am the Community Coordinator, the link between Hermann and the Community. I organize things at the school, I go to the principal and ask for information on some of the kids, I talk to the kids’ parents, I distribute information to the parents and I make sure they all signed indemnity forms before coming to the beach with us. During summer time I also teach the kids to swim. I also pack the kids’ boards and wetsuits when we go surfing. My mother offered us a store room, so the kids surfing equipment can be close to where I live in Friemersheim. We don’t have to pay her for it and I really appreciate it, for the kids! We love her for that!
Every time we take the kids to surf in a competition Hermann is involved with organizing, so I have to look after the kids. I help the kids on the beach, making sure they are surfing in the right heats and that they are on time.
I don’t normally ask the parents for money, because we are a Non-Profit organization and the kids don’t have to pay. But sometimes we need money. So I ask the parents for contributions. But that only happens once a year and we use the money to take the kids on surf trips. When we go on surf trips I help with everything!
The main thing I try to teach the kids in the surfing program is respect. Hermann, Jenya and myself, we respect each other. We want the kids to respect one another. Sometimes it gets a bit difficult with the kids. You don’t know the kids’ parents and you are dealing with different manners and attitudes. But we don’t chase the kids away. We work with them. We want them to keep surfing.
Mary: Before meeting Hermann and Jenya had you ever thought about taking your kids or other kids surfing?
Bennie: When I was younger, perhaps in high school, we went camping at some of the beaches. This was during the Apartheid years. But I would always go to the ‘white’ side of the beach and peak through the bushes to watch the surfers in the water. At that time I could not get close to them. I was not supposed to be near them. But I was interested in surfing. I always wanted to try. I wanted my kids to surf someday.
Mary: How has your life changed since the Surfer Kids NON-Profit started in Friemersheim in 2010?
Bennie: My life is better now. My marriage, my understanding with my children, and my role in the community. I was not an angel in my younger days. But now I want to be better in my community. I want to help our kids and support them in their needs. I want them to come to me and talk to me. If I can’t help them, I will pass it on to Hermann and Jenya. And we will find a way to help them.
Before The Surfer Kids NON-Profit started in Friemersheim, I was drinking a lot. From Friday to Sunday. I was even on drugs. My wife and I tried to sort it out with social workers and the people from the church, but nothing worked.
At that time, when it got really bad, I met Hermann. And it was like the ocean water washed all the dirt away. I went on with my life seeing and doing positive things for children. And not just for children, but for anyone if I can.
I want to ask the children, please, please don’t do drugs. It will ruin your whole life. There are so many things I missed while doing that stuff. I didn’t see good things. I only saw bad things. It was almost too late. But I can still do good. In what I’m doing now, I can be even better!
The other thing is, two years ago I found out that I am losing my eyesight. For a year I couldn’t work. I couldn’t see anything. My family and I struggled then. Hermann and Jenya really supported us during that time with friendship and motivation. I got an operation to fix my eyes, and my eyesight was much better, but a year ago, I was cutting with a grinder and an iron splinter got stuck in my left eye. I am starting to lose my eyesight again. The hospitals tried doing another operation, but it didn’t work. I only have sight left in one eye.
Also my English is much better now. All the time we understood English, but we didn’t have the opportunity to speak English. But with Jenya in the program we have to speak English. It’s good. We share languages. Maybe one day I will learn to speak Russian with Jenya.
Mary: What positive influences have you seen in your children, and in the other children, as a result of the Surfer Kids Non-Profit?
Bennie: In all of them, from six to sixteen, I have seen a change in attitude. We have some rules in the program. Especially for the older kids who can think for themselves and who can understand what is right and what is wrong. We implement things they must do, and not do. They know what we want from them, and what we want for them. We can’t force them to do things, but we can show them the beautiful things in life. We can show them travelling, we can take them to meet new cultures. Maybe one day we can fly over-seas to Miami and Australia and surf there!
New friendships are made in the program. Two brothers who came a few months ago and a new six-year old girl were shy at first, but after two or three lessons they are all friends. All of them are shy the first time, but they are all close now.
On Fridays the kids always come to me and ask: “Bennie, when do we go surfing?!” That’s all they talk about. And also about the computer and yoga lessons. They sleep surf, eat surf and play surf. It’s awesome! All they talk about is surfing, surfing, surfing!
I think my youngest son, Stephan, might compete in bigger competitions one day. He is surfing OK now and in six years, when he is sixteen, I see him as a great surfer. For Marchall it’s a pity that he didn’t start when he was younger, but every time we go to the beach I see progress! Marchall is a role model for his younger brother Stephan. Stephan really looks up to Marchall and his surfing abilities. Marchall has become a good surfer since joining this program three years ago.
I want surfing to be their job some day. Its something they can do together with the other kids. The surf program must go on and on and on, in Freimersheim! For as long as my eyes are open! It’s a healthy sport! If the kids want to do it, they have my full support no matter what! Even if their parents are beating them, I will be there.
You don’t always know what happens at their homes. But we will not give up on the kids, no matter what is going on at home. We will keep going with them.
We get the kids off the streets and the kids come surf with us. They are safe. Wherever we go, they are safe with us. And when they are with us, we are always teaching them something. They are never with us just for a joy ride. They are always learning.
Mary: What are your hopes for the future of the Surfer Kids Non-Profit and the growing volunteer program?
Bennie: In the long term I see The Surfer Kids as a big surf school! The older kids, who are now involved, will maybe run the program themselves. Three years from now we want the older kids, who will then be over eighteen and finished with school, to take The Surfer Kids to the beach all by themselves!
We hope to send a few kids to life saving courses and cooking courses, and help them get their drivers licenses so that they can organize the surfing themselves.
I want to give it to the kids as a job. We will see that they do it properly. When the kids at the primary school get their diplomas, and the whole community is there, I want to introduce The Surfer Kids program to the community. Because everyone will be there! I will ask the older kids in the program to join us, to tell the community how we run the program and what our plans are for the future!
The parents don’t come to the beach, but if we can bring them to the beach and we can show them what we do, I think they will help! Maybe if we show the parents some photos they will come to the beach. I want the parents to come to see what their kids are doing. I think the kids will do better if they know their parents are watching. I can see with my own two kids, they always want to show me their waves. If parents get involved the kids will show even better progress.
But dealing with the parents is difficult. The parents will argue with me sometimes, about silly things, but for me it is about the kids, not the parents.
I have lots of kids coming to me wanting to surf, but transport is our main problem. We can teach many kids to swim and surf, and how to see better things in life, if only we can get them to the beach! We can easily get more equipment. If only we could get more transport. We could teach all the kids in Friemersheim, who want to surf, but cannot afford private lessons.
If we had four guys, and each one helped just once a month with transport, we could get more kids to the beach on the weekends.
Maybe once our Non-Profit is registered we will get more funding from bigger companies.
I would really like to see the kids do more surf trips, so they can see more of life.
We also want to build a skate park here in Friemersheim. But the community committee must decide. I will build it myself, out of concrete and steel. We want to build something unique in Friemersheim. We want to build a skating bowl. I think we can attract many visitors and maybe even competitions. People will come from the big towns nearby, like Mossel Bay and George, to skate in our bowl!
But that is a big project and there are many things that need to be arranged and organized. We must ask for funds, for the materials, and plans and everything! It must be planned nicely! I hope we can start in March or April 2014 and finish at the end of 2014. That would be good!
But we can’t go on with planning because first we need to get the land. So we are waiting. We asked the community committee to help the kids, not just The Surfer Kids, but all the kids in Friemersheim! That skate park will be something they we can all enjoy, from six to sixty! It’s something new! I have never tried skateboarding, but I am going to learn!
For the volunteer program, I want to have a volunteer every three months. I’ve seen what you (Mary) are doing with the kids, and it’s great!
The computers and yoga classes is not something they get at school. It’s doing them good! The kids are sending emails to each other now! Stephanie says she will go on with the computer lessons. If she knows the computer she can do many things for the surf program! I don’t have time for that because of my work. I work a lot now, so Stephanie comes in and helps me with stuff for The Surfer Kids. There is lots of stuff she organizes during the day for the program. I can ask her in the evening to do something for the program and the next day it’s done! For that I am very grateful!
Mary: Anything else you would like to add?
Bennie: Hermann and Jenya are two awesome people from Russia and Cape Town! I’ve never asked them how they met each other, or what their parents are like, but from what I can see I don’t think Hermann was ever white. I shouldn’t say this, but he is different from other whites in this area. We drink water out of the same cup. We are like brothers, such close friends. Not just friends like weekend-friends. We’re friends for surfing! He loves the water! He is an ocean-man!
I don’t know how our community can ever thank him for everything he has done for our children. He is very good at what he does and he must go on. I see a great future for them with the Surf Tours they are doing! And I am very happy for them!
My wife and I have asked each other many times “How will they do with their own kids!” Our wish is that Jenya raise their own surfer kid!
I want to thank Hermann and Jenya for their support! And I thank God that I have the strength to help! I can promise them that I will never leave The Surfer Kids NON-Profit!
Thank you also to my family, and especially my wife Stephnie. She supports me with this program. On rainy days, windy days, hot days, she’s always there. When we take the kids on surf trips she helps with cooking and with organising the kids. I want to say to her “We have two beautiful sons! I love them. And I love you.”
I would also like to thank you, Mary, for coming to volunteer with our program. The kids really appreciate what you are doing!
Last week the kids really touched my heart. They gave me a thank you card. I love them.
To the community I want to thank them for supporting their kids and they must continue their support of this awesome program! I want to ask that the parents come help us, not with money, but with helping the kids on the beach! The guys who have transport, come help us!
We must say to thank you, thank you, thank you! Our kids are off the streets!