All profit from the sale of this wax will go directly to SurfAid Internationalto assist improving the health, well-being and self-reliance of remote communities in Indonesia, Mexico and the Solomon Islands.
We admire the SurfAid model, particularly the way the organisation works with, and in support of, communities in the wave rich regions we love to visit to implement programs including: mother and child health; water and sanitation; combating malaria; growing nutritious crops to lower malnutrition; community heath centres; education and health support.
Use this wax and go surfing – it’s an easy way to contribute to SurfAid’s valuable work.
We were fortunate to reach SurfAid founder Dr Dave Jenkins at his home in Bali to get his perspective twenty years on from when he founded the not-for-profit aid organisation in October 1999 after a fateful boat trip in the Mentawais.
It’s a longform interview, but Dr Dave’s an incredibly wise, generous and accomplished individual. We hope you’re able to take the time to read about his experiences.
Hi Dr Dave, are you getting waves? What’s going on in your life?
Yes, still getting up at 4.45 am to chase waves around Bali and still hauling the gun out when it’s big, but I’m 60 years old and age takes no prisoners… I’ve scaled back my role with SurfAid and handed it on to people who are much more qualified than me. I’m best not in a management position, I’m too soft. Plus, my accountant keeps reminding me ‘SurfAid has filled your heart but emptied your wallet’. I’ve been studying the emerging science of Functional Medicine coaching clients through this new science of health, specialising in cognition. I’ve found modern medicine does an amazingly good job when it comes to trauma and high-tech stuff but we have applied that model to chronic disease and it just doesn’t work to address the underlying causes. Working part time with SurfAid allows me to dedicate time to individually coaching clients to better heath through Functional Medicine, consultancy roles and keynote speaking engagements.
What do you love about surfing?
I’ve a memory of when we were living at Gisborne in New Zealand. I returned home and discovered my youngest daughter, who was about eight at the time, shivering, blue and barely able to speak after surfing Makorori in the middle of winter with one of her friends. I greeted her and asked “how you going honey” and she responded “I don’t know what it is about surfing Dad but it always makes me feel so good!” (Laughs). I think surfing is the perfect sport or the perfect activity. It’s like how you have super foods. Surfing is a super activity or exercise. You have the stretch, you have the pulses of high intensity then relaxation – it’s being revealed to be the perfect way to exercise, and an added bonus is that you’re in the sea. There’s some new science regarding negative ions mopping up free radicals in the body, so you’re anti-oxidizing yourself, and more than all of that, it’s a meditative state. There’s also something about cold water that is anti-aging and optimal for health. It’s a mind, body and spirit kind of thing. I’ve a very holistic approach to surfing and I think it’s common amongst a lot of people who have surfed for a long time. I intend to live close to the ocean and surf for as long as I can otherwise I’d need to be in the mountains near a lake!
What is your medical background ?
I qualified from Otago University Medical School in New Zealand in 1982. I was a general practitioner and had one of the largest rural practices in New Zealand at the Bay of Plenty. I went on to pursue education through senior lectureships at Auckland Medical School. I then took up a role as executive director for education for an Asian Corporate health project. I was based in Singapore and was earning a crazy corporate salary. My goal was always to cash up, buy a yacht and sail the world for a few years. I thought I would work with this corporate health project for five or so years and have enough money to fulfil my sailing dream. Then I went surfing in the Mentawais and my life changed.
What happened in the Mentawais?
It was my first trip to the Mentawais in October 1999. I’d seen all the pictures and by that time word was out so there were a bunch of charter boats operating. I remember going onshore after a great session and seeing these kids on the beach. I followed a track into a village and saw these little graves and some of them were pretty fresh… That’s when I realised that this wasn’t paradise for the locals even though it looked like paradise from the boat. The village chief came to find me after being told I was a doctor and asked me to do a clinic. I agreed, explained I had a medical bag on the boat and asked for him to gather the wounded and I’d be back in an hour. When I came back there were about 200 people waiting. It was quite alarming. We battled along and saw some pretty gruesome things. One woman actually died that night. I saw kids just wasting away from malaria and malnutrition. I was pretty deeply affected. It was an intensely emotional afternoon; a lot of the guys couldn’t deal with it and had to leave. It was quite a contrast between our luxury charter boat with perfect waves, unlimited Bintang beers and three-course lunches, while these kids were dying literally 100 metres away. I’d witnessed women and children dying from malaria, malnutrition and inadequate living standards, things that I knew were treatable and, better still, preventable. I had a clash of conscience over the next few days whether I could sail away from this place without doing anything about it. I came to the realisation that I wanted to do something and just jumped into it, left my job, sold my house, and was out of Singapore within weeks.
How was SurfAid born ?
I started asking around the surfing industry whether anybody in the Mentawais was doing any aid work there or knew anything about what was going on, and was directed to Dr Manu. He’s actually Iranian and fled execution and ended up in medical school in Indonesia and became an Indonesian citizen. He had been trying to help the Mentawai people for years. When I knocked on his door he said: ‘We’ve been waiting for you.’ It was kind of spooky because he seemed to know why I was there. He had a plan already, there were a bunch of Mentawai nurses who the government had sent to nursing school but then hadn’t employed them. The plan was for him to train and support them while I went out and raised money to further develop the project. All these diseases were preventable and we knew that, so prevention was a key part of plan right from the beginning. As we progressed and Dr Manu’s focus shifted to another project I realised that I would have to set up a ‘not-for-profit’. I flew home to NZ and met with some mates in Gisborne. I’d worked out I just needed 25 people to pay $25 each for us to become an official not-for-profit. I asked my good friends Dr Steve Hathaway and lawyer Phil Dreifuss to assist because I knew they had a lot of the skills that I lacked and that if they said yes, SurfAid had a fighting chance. When they agreed we enticed our friends around for dinner and sprung it on them that we needed them to pay $25 and sign up as members of SurfAid. We ended up paying a lot of it ourselves, but that’s where SurfAid was born, on 26 January 2000 at a BBQ in Gisborne.
Were you straight into it after that?
Yes, but we never really had any money until the Boxing Day Tsunami occurred in December 2004. I was back doing medical work and eating into my personal savings. We had a successful malaria control program in E-Bay villages and had documented a dramatic drop in parasite rates. So when the Tsunami hit suddenly we were getting calls from the Australian and New Zealand governments as well as the surf industry asking how they could help because we had developed a reputation of being the real deal. We went from about 23 staff to 160 in about six weeks if you include the staff on the boats we engaged. We did a disease prevention program up and down the island chain but didn’t try to do things we weren’t capable of doing. When the Nias Earthquake occurred in March 2005 we had shown that we’d done a good job after the Tsunami and were thorough with the allocation of funds so were able to expand again with help from the NZ Government. By effectively helping out in Nias after the earthquake we had won a lot of respect from AusAid in Jakarta and had developed a really good relationship with the NZ Government so we won contracts to continue and expand our mother and child program and to start up an emergency preparedness program. Now we do mother and child health, water and sanitation and malaria control, we’ve completed five emergency responses to tsunamis and earthquakes, and we run emergency preparedness programs.
How many staff does SurfAid have and how does it operate?
Our international headquarters is in Avalon, Sydney, Australia where there are 3 full-time and 2 part-time staff. Our CEO Doug Lees who previously headed up Surfing World and Coastalwatch is based there. We also have a small office in Encinitas, California, where we are registered as a not-for-profit, and we have 2 people over there. In Indonesia we have 50 staff, and most of them are in the field working with our communities. SurfAid is incorporated as a non-profit organisation in New Zealand, the United States and Australia and has a voluntary Board of Directors in each. SurfAid then has an International Board of Directors, drawn from each country board, and comprised of a diverse group of people with broad experience in the fields of commerce, science and law. We look at our needs and try mix it up between successful business people who are always impact driven, mixed with those with scientific, aid, development and media experience. The field program offices are in Medan, North Sumatra; Tua Pejat, the regional capital of the Mentawai Islands; Sikakap, the sub-district capital of Pagai, Mentawai Islands; Gunungsitoli, Nias; Padang, West Sumatra; Sumba; and Bima, Sumbawa.
What determines how the money donated to SurfAid is allocated?
We have a very tight fiscal allocation to our various projects based upon the project need, our budget and often the terms of the grant we have won which outlines the percentage of funds that must come from SurfAid non grant fundraising. We spend a lot of time in the early preparation phase for a project considering its pros and cons and likely cost effectiveness. The decision to expand the model into Mexico and the Solomon Islands was driven by need and because we are convinced our model is effective and scalable. We are partnering with agencies that don’t have our skill set and recognise its effectiveness. Both the Solomons and Mexico have the potential to grow into quite substantial projects. We believe SurfAid has proven our model works in Indonesia and now it’s time to test our mettle and see if we can take it to an entirely different countries and successfully scale up over time.
Tell us about the wider SurfAid model and your personal philosophy in relation to affluent western nations providing aid to developing countries?
We are here to facilitate change, no easy matter. We have learned that there are specific strategies and tools that can be repeatedly used to identify the barriers to change and help communities identify ways to overcome them. Given the right set of circumstances most communities can, and will change, but it requires a delicate and determined approach from the not-for-profit. This is what's lacking in many of the other aid projects provided by affluent nations. We always saw the complexity and philosophical wrongness of being the white saviours. We didn’t want to ride in and claim we had the solutions. We learnt by just living in the villages to appreciate where local behaviours came from. We know to have a lasting impact the change has to come from the villagers themselves. We are only successful in our model if we get local people to change their behaviours. No white man is going to live in those villages for long though, it’s tough. Westerners are not genetically designed to be at 90% humidity in that heat. Our philosophy is to empower Indonesians to help each other. Our staff train local volunteers and are seen as facilitators and change agents. For example I had a very passionate discussion with the leader of a large organisation who was paying the chief and his friends wages and providing materials to build toilet blocks in a village. This compares with our strategy to provoke and support the desire to build your own toilet. I’ve seen many toilet blocks being unused but never in our villages where families are now proud of what they achieved and now ask for help to address their other priorities. Too many aid projects have the wrong outcome measures of success such as in the example above. The aid organisation and donors’ success outcomes was the number of toilet blocks built, not a reducing diarrhoea rate, which is a success rate we measure amongst others.
The image of a young Mentawai man fishing with one of the mosquito nets SurfAid provided is confronting. How did witnessing this event influence the direction of the organisation?
It introduced a new vision and value, one of humbled curiosity. We didn’t have the skill set to educate the villagers right at the beginning because we were unfamiliar with the culture and were just green and naive. Initially that was the downside in not being a career community development person, but in the long run it has been much more beneficial for our donors and beneficiaries for us to have an impact driven entrepreneurial spirit and less rigid university textbook development work approach. We found we had to be innovative and curious and became obsessed at finding and helping to develop the right community-based bottom up strategies that would drive the best outcomes. For example we let the people teach us what would educate their people about using the mosquito nets. We then used our skills to refine the project, document it and scale it to over 190 villages. We were not career aid people. SurfAid had to truly work or we would have had to walk away. It was heartfelt and we had our own money at stake. We made significant sacrifices to achieve success. The only way to be really effective is to be honest. When you see the guy fishing with your mosquito net you realise you’ve got a lot to learn. We are still honest with ourselves today, but we can also honestly show 90% reduction in childhood mortality with objective data.
Your TED Talk is a powerful and inspiring personal account.You must be very proud of what SurfAid has achieved since you founded the organisation around twenty years ago. What have been some significant personal milestones along the way?
Developing a scalable model and approach that is very cost effective and gives both the best outcomes not only for our beneficiaries but also our donors as the return on investment continues to echo on for generations when health behaviour norms are changed. For example, the community-lead total sanitation program. We can walk away knowing that village has clean water they know how to maintain it and the reduced childhood dying and suffering from diarrhoea and cholera goes on for years and years.
Successfully transforming ourselves into an Emergency Response organisation and being so effective at it after the Boxing Day Tsunami and Nias earthquake and receiving funding by the Australian and NZ governments to scale these efforts when need be. Geologists know the tectonic plates are stuck between the southern pole of the Mentawais up to the southern tip of the Telos. There’ll be one more and it’s about 7 years overdue;
Successfully resolving many of the internal challenges such as my founder’s syndrome and moving on in good collaborative spirit;
Our entrepreneurship both in creating effective field tools such as the community-lead total sanitation program, nutrition, clean birthing or malaria programs, scaling these to hundreds of villages and organising the necessary fundraising, such as the SurfAid cups
Handing on more and more responsibility to the Indonesians in our staff;
Getting the data back from our Nias program showing a reduction in under 5 mortality of over 90% and a 100% reduction in maternal mortality which are some of the very best results ever recorded globally.
What has working with the Mentawai people taught you as a doctor and humanitarian ?
As a doctor it's clear that adjusting a small set of health behaviours remains the most powerful way to improve the health of communities. I love the idea and reality that you can, with a committed and smart approach wipe out hundreds and thousands of days of human suffering with a series of low cost, high impact behavioural changes. A well-nourished child doesn’t die from pneumonia and washing hands reduces diarrhoea rates by 40%. Children are dying and mothers are dying because they haven’t been taught these things. In the Telos the influence of breastfeeding witches caused mothers not to give their newborn baby breast milk until around day three, rather than immediately after birth. Delivering the baby up to the breast after birth will ensure it receives the first colostrum which is filled with immunoglobulins that will fight all infection. Infant mortality can be reduced between 15 to 20% with that one behaviour change! When the effect becomes obvious mothers teach daughters and daughters teach their daughters. We have trained our local staff to be the change agents. They work with the cultural and political leaders of the village then they train local volunteer mothers who run a monthly wellness program to identify children at risk. Initially around 30% were doing immediate breast feeding and now that’s changed to about 90 – 95%. When young mothers realise they are saving children’s lives, not SurfAid, Care or some other NGO, they get super proud. When you do it right, when you tap love and you tap pride you get on a beautiful virtuous roll – in contrast handouts disempower and disappoint people. Knowledge is not transformation, it plays a part but you need a behavioural change program. I’m totally fixated on being part of a team that helps people maximize their health whether it is people on remote islands or obese people in developed countries. There are ways to do it and people need to be coached and empowered to do it. I’m hooked on the idea that human suffering can be ended and people can have great health for the rest of their life.
You’ve retired from practicing as a doctor but are now involved in the health sector as a consultant. What motivated this career shift?
I am no longer needed full time at SurfAid as we have always strived to replace ourselves with Indonesians and many of the technical aspects of our programs I was involved in helping to design are well established inside our model. And I want to make a difference in the growing the use of Functional Medicine. This is a private health consultancy I am involved in where instead of patch up drug based symptom control we seek to identify and improve the underlying drivers of chronic disease.
How do you see the practice of medicine currently developing?
There is worrying and growing evidence that many non-pharmaceutical interventions are not being incorporated into best practice where the evidence strongly suggests they should be considered. Curing type 2 diabetes with the Keto diet is one example. Another is reversing cognitive decline such as early Alzheimers using Functional Medicine. Despite our joint publication of 100 cases of objectively documented reversal of early Alzheimers using The Bredesen Protocols, mainstream medicine remains stubbornly resistant to our non-drug therapy despite over 400 drug trials failing for Alzheimers and Alzheimers becoming the number 1 killer of women in Australia
What is your role in SurfAid these days?
I maintain contact with the work in the field and contribute where appropriate and am active in fundraising and relationships with core donors, a lot of whom have become my friends. We have another great CEO Doug Lees after former CEO Andrew Judge, who was instrumental in SurfAid’s success over the past ten years, stepped down and joined the SurfAid Board. Most of my time with SurfAid is spent travelling the world spreading awareness of the need for our work and raising funds. We’ve always wanted to make ourselves redundant, in the sense that the communities can prosper without us, which is how we approach our mission. The vast majority of our staff are Indonesian nationals. We’ve been very proactive and systematic in the area of empowering Indonesians to do the work as time and funding has allowed us to train and develop our staff. We work hand-in-hand with the communities with the goal of creating self-reliance so improved results in their health are sustainable. For example, in our mother and child health program we teach the mother how to breastfeed and give clean birth, which she then teaches her child, who then teaches their child etc, so it becomes a cultural norm and at least in that village you hopefully make yourself redundant and can move on to another village in need.
What advice do you have for surfers who feel a strong desire to help others or become activists for a cause?
Don’t just hand out stuff to people. If you are genuinely keen to help a community, find out their needs and partner with an established local organisation who may be able to help. Raise money for them. Stay focused on starting small, learning and empowering local people to help themselves. It is proven that by acting out an act of compassion you both consciously and subconsciously reflect on that and it changes your hormonal milieu, it gives you a sense of satisfaction and purpose. No matter what you do in life, do some fundraising, connect with humanity, and make a change. It will change your biochemistry and you will attract better people in your life.