SANTIAGO, Chile – On Sunday Felipe Pereira is full of enthusiasm. Indeed, on Sunday, the 21-year-old goes to Paradise Beach to enjoy the sea with his friends and learn to surf.
For children and young adults with intellectual disabilities, it is more than a sport. It’s the Waves of hope free surf school, based in the Antofagasta region in northern Chile.
The school is run by Chilean surf enthusiasts Claudio Morales, Catalina Daniels and Pablo Marín. They started the program five years ago.
After knocking on many doors, conducting pilot projects, consulting with specialists and finding funding, they started their first lesson with six surfboards and six wetsuits.
Every Sunday from December to February, the three directors and other volunteers welcome up to 15 children with Down’s syndrome, Asperger’s disease and autism, giving them totally personalized lessons adapted to each individual’s condition.
Pereira is a very sociable young man who does folk dancing, goes swimming and works in his school’s bakery. He said CNA that what he loves most about surfing lessons is “getting on the surfboard and catching the waves”.
“I love the sea. I really like going there,” he said. Pereira also liked his instructors, saying: “I like how nice they are to us, I like what they are. ‘they do.”
Instructor Catalina Daniels said CNA that his students “challenge you to change. You cannot continue to be the same.
“They are a great example of how love is the driving force behind the best things, the best times, the best efforts. Loving warmth is the best investment and with them it’s amazing,” he said. she declared.
Daniels also discussed the impact of faith, saying that “the person who knows Christ, Jesus, who by His mercy entered your life, cannot be the same. You have to be better, more loving, more understanding, more tolerant, because they are.
Surfing requires strength, balance, agility and a lot of technique. But what is most important, recognize the founders of Waves of Hope, is the relationship between instructor and student. This breaks down the barriers of discrimination to make room for integration.
Many Chileans have never spoken or shaken hands with someone with Down syndrome.
“So very motivated volunteers come in, but on the first day they don’t know what to say, they don’t know how to act, they try to help, but even they freeze,” Daniels said. CNA.
But the students laugh and tell jokes, and eventually relationships are formed.
“They have an incredible time. They float, row, make group dynamics, take the surfboard. They have shown that they can do a lot, they have overcome many difficulties related to their condition, ”said Daniels.
She explained that the problem is rooted in discrimination and lack of proper integration.
“They were born to struggle with frustration, they were born already disadvantaged,” she said of the students. “It was really difficult to get the support of the companies. Why don’t we see girls with Down’s syndrome promoting products in advertising? Because the beauty of our students is atypical beauty and no one wants it on the front page. “
“Chile is a country that creates disabilities,” she reflected, adding that tendencies to devalue family, school and the Church also cause problems for people with disabilities.
Daniels recommended that people come closer to God: “To give love, you have to be with the Creator of love… When you have love, you have to give it, you have to give it form, make it real.
Claudio Morales, another director, added that volunteers are “the big winners” of Waves of Hope.
“Children with Down’s syndrome capture your heart in an incredible way,” he said. “I believe that all volunteers have a new way of seeing life. “
(History of Catholic News Agency)