Interview with Give and Surf's Neil Christiansen

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We recently featured Give and Surf, a non-profit based in Panama, who's mission is to empower the people of Bocas del Toro, through education, infrastructure and surf. After reading the article we had posted, Neil (founder of G ive and Surf) made contact with us and we were able to learn more about him personally as well as the great initiatives the organization is conducting. This is what he had to say... Where did your love for surf come from and what is your earliest surf memory? My love of surfing and the ocean started in the quintessential Jersey Shore town of Deauville Beach. Thanks granddaddy for being a genius and building this sea cottage fifty-five years ago. As for my early childhood it was spent doing all things Jersey: drizzle castles, sandy pants, yelling ice cream man, shake and baking friends, and surfing on my boogey board. That’s how kids started surfing when I was a child, not air reverses before the age braces. For us it was surf on your boogey board until you were too heavy to do so anymore and then take out your brother’s Christian Fletcher Model T&C. So this upgrade came at the age of 12 and I was immediately hooked to a life in which surfing dictated all decisions. I spent the next 6 years in Jersey with great friends having too much fun through flat spells and obsessing over when the wind would blow hard enough to bring mediocre waves followed by one day of epic off shore surf. From there surfing directed my life to places all over the world and eventually landed me in Panama. On a side note Sandy destroyed my town, but not my memories. Things have forever been redefined on the Jersey Shore after this storm and I am looking forward to seeing things improve! Jersey Strong. 920978_541032062609374_678538175_o What made you leave everything behind in San Diego and head off to Panama to start Give and Surf? Most would take a snap shot of my life before Panama and classify it as ideal. It was, I lived a block from the ocean in the most beautiful area of San Diego with a high paying, stress free job and surrounded by great friends. There were no complaints and it was the lack of challenges I faced that pushed me to make this decision. I wanted the challenge to help others for a living and do so in my own style. Since the day I put my big boy pants on and started working in the real world, I wanted to do something I could call my own that would benefit and empower someone/something, I just did not know what. So I planned to find out what this was by quitting my job and volunteering in places I could surf. Sitting behind my computer I did not find what I was looking for and ding, the light bulb went off and I decided do it myself. After that it was all over. How has the organization evolved since its inception? Starting the organization was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It took a serious toll on me physically and mentally, but from day one fulfilled me in a way I had never felt before. I was stoked. Not because the waves were perfect or sunsets were pretty (which they were), but because I was feeling whole through connecting with people I would otherwise never connect with had this wacky idea never came about. The first two years were incredibly challenging. I personally funded the organization and it lacked support, awareness, resources, and volunteers, but I stayed committed. In the last six months the switch turned on in a big way and things have really come together. The people spoke and volunteers came. To make a long list short we have man handled the following: daily preschool, summer school, after-school program, daily English classes and constructing the following: new school in Bahia Roja, new library, community garden, two bathroom septic tanks, school cafeteria, and much more. This was made possible from groups and volunteers visiting us from around the world. I am still left searching for more support and improving the programs and this keeps me hungry. 197910_474516122594302_660074194_n How has surfing empowered the kids of Panama? This is not applicable as our programs are not surf related. The surfing component of the organization is for volunteers to learn to surf. In the future I have plans of adding a surf outreach program for the indigenous children, but at this point we have not involved the children with surfing. Give and Surf is currently in the process of constructing school buildings, can give us the full details on the project? Sure thing! We have just finished building a gem of a school for the Bahia Roja community. It was fundraised by a group of high schoolers from Gill St. Bernards who volunteered with us in May. These awesome kids and our family of supporters raised over $10,000 to provide a proper school for the deserving children of this community. They were previously taught in a collapsed school building so this upgrade is a huge addition to education in this indigenous community. In just three weeks we completed the schools, big ups to Daniel,Delfina, Eddie, all the volunteers, and the community of Bahia Roja for all your hard work! 965211_553471228032124_1111406334_o Any exciting projects happening in the near future? The most exciting project we are starting is a music program. It is a long time coming and we are thrilled to make rock stars of the children this summer. We hosted a fundraiser months ago and past volunteers Antoonia, Annette, and Amy showed up in a big way raising over $2,500. We are ready to rock with loads of ukuleles, recorders, bongos, guitars, small percussions, and a full drum set. As I am in the states doing less exciting development work, our team on the ground will be starting this program. An infinite number of thanks goes to Daniel David and Logan Roth for getting this program off the ground. Further down the road we will build a team of interns to work with us domestically and in Panama. This means developing partnerships with universities and offering college students and recent graduates the opportunity to gain work experiences in fields related to their interests and majors. Internships will include teaching, non-profit business development, and community outreach opportunities.

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