Simunye, Sisonke – Together as one

The school bell rings and children who have been referred to the Waves for Change (W4C) Surf Therapy programme are gathering outside, waiting for their transport to bring them to the beach. While they wait, they decide to form a circle and practice a “take five” – a simple breathing exercise they learnt at the beach that helps to calm the body and mind. 

On the beach, surf therapy mentors have laid out wetsuits and equipment, ready for their surfers to arrive. Today, there will be over 70 W4C surfers taking to the waves. As children pour out of their transport, they’re greeted by their surf mentors and issued a wetsuit for the day’s practice. Above all the laughter, playing, and chatting, a single voice is heard:

Simunye!. 70 voices immediately respond: Sisonke!

All eyes and ears are on the surf mentors, ready for instruction. The call of “Simunye” (meaning “we are one”) invites them to be in the moment together, moving forward as one. Their returning cry of “Sisonke” means “we are together” and shows their eagerness to participate. Today’s session is pair floating: together, the children will practice a fun and challenging new skill (floating), while also practising transferable behaviours such as empathy, communication, and teamwork. These are the positive behaviours they can use anywhere, anytime, to build strong and healthy social connections – a core ingredient of their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

On another day, W4C surf therapy mentors along the South African coast gather for curriculum training and planning. As they share and talk, a trainer’s voice is heard: “Sisonke!” and the team immediately reply in unison: “Simunye!”.

What calls us together?

It’s estimated that just over 81% of South Africans cannot afford (mental) healthcare, despite consistent exposure to poverty, food insecurity, witnessing or being subjected to violence, and gender-based violence. This consistent exposure, in combination with no access to prevention or intervention treatments, can result in a build-up of toxic stress.  This negatively impacts cognitive functions and ability to self-regulate, increases the risk of non-communicable diseases, and contributes towards social dissolution.

Existing mental health services which are available are generally too expensive for those who need them most, and predominantly rely on a singular, traditional, and culturally inappropriate approach which is challenging to scale. Other barriers to mental health services include:

  • Stigma and misconceptions around mental health
  • A lack of trust in existing services
  • Overburdened and under-funded state services, and overwhelmed and under-funded civil society/community-based services
  • Low numbers of trained/qualified mental health practitioners, and few alternative/non-conventional mental health support programmes.

Together Beyond the Beach

The call for unity echoes throughout the organisation across a diversity of roles, populations, and activities. It supports and enables everyone, from participant to director, to instinctively be grounded in and guided by the shared purpose, values, and approach of the organisation. 

During a W4C support staff operations meeting, focus drifts. A gentle call of “Simunye” from the finance manager brings the team back together, to tackle the task ahead.  

The call also guides W4C’s partnerships work: a commitment to share widely, collaborate, and connect with passionate change-makers to bridge the mental health treatment gap in under-served communities – something that simply cannot be done in isolation.

Together Beyond Waves for Change

W4C aims to help bridge this treatment gap through a scalable, community-based approach. For W4C, wellbeing is not only the absence of illness: it’s the ability to contribute to our communities, cope with the normal challenges of life, make healthy connections, and live productively. We aim to deliver a wellbeing service that has some of the core ingredients – what we call our Five Pillars – to boost youth wellbeing:

  • Physically, emotionally, and mentally safe spaces
  • Strong connections with caring coaches and peers
  • Mastering fun, challenging new tasks
  • Psycho-social education to cope with stress and live well
  • Access to further opportunities and support networks

The scalable nature of the Five Pillar method, combined with our deep belief in the value and impact of community-based, community-led services which can rapidly adapt to context, challenges, and opportunities, led W4C to expand our call of Simunye-Sisonke beyond our own organisation. Through our partnerships work, we support locals from 35+ organisations (in 12 countries) to adapt and integrate the Five Pillars into their existing programmes.

Together, we’ve made both the delivery of and access to mental health services easier and more rapid, as one of core pathways to addressing the mental health crisis in South Africa and beyond.

We are one because we are together, and we can’t do this without you. Join us.

Waves for Change extends this call to anyone who believes in accessible, child-friendly mental health services. It is an invitation to action that can take on many forms:  

  • Always hold a safe space for children to speak to you as an adult 
  • If you are young yourself, be a positive role model for younger kids
  • Donate your surplus surf and swim gear to Waves for Change
  • Follow Waves for Change on social media and actively share in the conversations
  • If you’ve got a support network, talent, or skill, start a fundraiser and support the work we do – we’ll support you all the way!
  • Make a donation at