This Is What Happens When You Give a Kid a Surfboard

06/15/2015 12:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

By Saba El Kabir

Posted originally on the BRAC Blog

Golap Shah is a 14-year-old student of class 8 at Kolatoli High School in Cox's Bazar. She is somewhat hesitant when talking about her life -- impeded in no small part by her having to abandon her dialect in order to communicate. But once the conversation turns towards the one passion of her life, her face lights up with an infectious smile, her apparent unease replaced by a sense of self-belief and an eagerness to let the world know what her life is really all about. Every day, between school, studies, and her daily chores, between 4p.m. and sunset, she takes to the waves of the Bay of Bengal, her and her surfing board ready for everything the sea has to offer.

Golap is a part of a tightly-knit community of surfers in Cox's Bazar, a city which, unknown to many, is one of the most prominent surfing destinations in the South Asian region. She is also among the more privileged of the group having gone to school. Many haven't had access to any form of formal education, and when not surfing, spend their days, on the beaches selling trinkets or cigarettes in order to help their families make ends meet.

Surfing is more than just riding the waves for these kids. It is what brings them together, transforms 'the street kids' into 'surfers', and helps them find a future where anything is possible. And it is this vision of the future -- this hope -- that holds the key to unlocking the vast reservoirs of potential that might otherwise have never been realized.

By mobilizing communities, sports can become a conduit for information including one's economic, social and personal well-being. This makes it a valuable tool for development and peace, one that can help us reach the many pockets of inequality that exist within Bangladesh.

However, the social value of sports, particularly at the grassroots levels, tends to become a serial casualty to cost-benefit accounting and questions of commercial viability. Yet it is at that very level that sports has the potential to make most meaningful positive changes.

This is why in 2015, BRAC Enterprises will be focusing on promoting and patronizing grassroots-level sport activities. This month saw the conclusion of two such endeavors: the Aarong Dairy Pioneer Football tournament, a national under-16 football tournament organized by the Bangladesh Football Federation, and BRAC Chicken's first National Surfing Tournament, organized by Bangladesh Surfing Association in association with Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation in Cox's Bazar.

The scale of these sporting events are vastly different -- one is the biggest football tournament in Bangladesh in terms of number of participants, with players coming in from all corners of the country and lasting over three months. The other is a two-day event featuring 70 surfers drawn from a tightly-knit community. But our mission in both cases remains the same: to empower youth, many of whom come from disadvantaged communities, by giving them the opportunity to realize their potential, in the social, economic and sporting arenas.

There is no doubt that the power of sports can bring people together and transform communities. But perhaps its greatest gift is something less tangible or quantifiable, something that is more a matter of the heart than the head.

To paraphrase what Golap Shah said:

"Out on the waves, there are no dividing lines, nothing to hold you back. You have no identity but that of a surfer -- there is only you, your board, and wave after wave after wave."

If you are organizing or are involved with grassroots-level sporting events and want to connect with us, please reach out:

BRAC Enterprises
BRAC Centre (10th floor)
75 Mohakhali
Dhaka, Bangladesh 1212
Tel: +88 02 9881265 3172

Saba El Kabir is a digital and content marketing manager at BRAC Enterprise.