A smile and a wave can change lives

Ashtan Davids is a Muizenberg resident whose dream is to surf internationally.

While that may not be unusual, Ashtan’s dream is changing the lives of scores of children with a variety of mental and physical challenges.

Ashtan has cerebral palsy, but that’s not stopping him.

He, his sister Megan Cross and his mom Shireen Sachse have registered, and run, an NPO called Believe in Schatzi, which offers surf lessons to physically and mentally challenged children, and also advocates for wheelchair accessibility issues in Muizenberg.

Schatzi means treasure in German. Ashtan may be his family’s treasure, but he is equally a massive inspiration beyond familial lines.

With the help of international and local volunteers, the family have launched a surf initiative called Smile and Wave, for children with a variety of mobility or intellectual challenges.

It’s a good name: the sea at Surfer’s Corner on Saturday April 9, was awash with smiles.

Aadam Tofie, 18, of Goodwood, has no intention of taking on the World Adaptive Surfing Championship in California like his friend Ashtan, he is simply elated to be splashing about in the sea.

For Aadam, the thrill is about being out in the sun and sea, being social, interacting.

It is exercise, it is therapy, but beyond that, it is so much fun. Today, Aadam is actively taking part in a societal norm.

Young Adam Klink is autistic, but he’s watched Ashtan take to the waves, and he is now equally undaunted.

The young Goodwood resident ploughs confidently into the water, his dad Raymondo Baantjies close on hand, and sets about catching some waves.

Aadam’s mom, watching from the beach, says she is so impressed at how confident he seems, what a good time he is having, and stresses how seeing this alleviates some challenges of having a child with Autism.

“When you have a child like this, you know there is something wrong, but you go into denial. “That’s normal, but you must also come to terms with it, because there are things that can be done to help them, and this programme is one of the best to be part of,” she says. “It gets them active and social.”

She says the early days after diagnosis are hardest. “Especially on the fathers, because you don’t know anything about it at first, or where it comes from; and you each feel guilty. But, there is hope,” she says. “I mean, just look at him.”

Another participant in the Smile and Wave initiative was Caleb Davids, whose delight, even from the shore, was absolutely contagious.

Surfing coach Paul Jurgens was thrilled with Caleb’s progress.

“Last time he wouldn’t give me his hands, today he let me guide him all through the waves and he was laughing the whole way. It really is about building trust,” he says.

Paul says he feels that what he is doing with Smile and Wave is real, and worthwhile work, giving children with various challenges the chance to learn to surf to the best of their own personal ability.

“We really want to reach as many children as we can, no matter what their disability or challenge. We want them to be able to share in the freedom and joy of being in the water. We have a full team based in Muizenberg and we also have volunteers, and that,” Megan says, pointing to a sea of grinning faces, “is what it is all about.”

Believe in Schatzi also investigates accessibility issues around Muizenberg and is raising awareness around the everyday mobility challenges faced by people in wheelchairs, with walkers and even prams.

“During our last walk, we found many areas where the National Building Guidelines have not been adhered too at all-like no curb cuts nor lowered curbs at all,” she said.

“Our goal is for Muizenberg Beach to become the adaptive surfing capital of the world,” Megan said. “We have the space, Surfer’s Corner is perfect.

And, getting wheelchair access will help get us the Blue Flag status back for Muizenberg beach,” she said.

Shireen says she is so proud of her boy, but there are still some days when things are difficult, and some challenges always remain. “I was 17 when I had him.

I had no idea; I thought I had done something wrong. But my mother gave me strength and guidance, and today, we are here.

“We are strong. And here he is, working hard towards his hopes of being part of the World Adaptive Surfing Championship.

“And beyond that – he is a positive influence for many.

“All this started because of him. This makes me very happy,” she says.

Follow the Believe in Schatzi initiative on Facebook.

For more information, you can email treasurer@believeinschatzi .org