Volunteer World had the opportunity to interview Neil Christiansen who has left everything behind to start up his own social project and with it a purposeful life in Panama!
What is Give and Surf?
Give & Surf is a locally embedded 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation of volunteers providing sustainable empowerment to indigenous communities in Bocas del Toro, Panama, through education and community development. Give & Surf aims to develop long lasting relationships with indigenous communities of Bocas del Toro rooted in educational growth for all community members.
Why have you decided to leave everything behind and start up with this project?
I was working with orthopedic surgeons in a multi-national company and my responsibility was help them install in people’s bodies several medical devices. Early into adulthood I felt uncomfortable in the conventional direction my career in medical devices was going and knew there would be a turning point, but it took a number of years to reach this point.
I wanted to live a more purposeful life and had the idea to start a non-profit in which I could have creative control from start to finish.
The inspiration to start Give & Surf developed in a series of decisions. My initial plans were to simply quit my job and give back to areas of the world by supporting the work of other non-profits. So one day, I decided to take courage, quit my job and travel around the world. I also wanted to have a purposeful travel experience so I started to do some research. From this moment on I was hooked on the idea and started the process of developing Give & Surf.
The roller coaster ride had begun and whatever was thrown at me I found a way to deal with it.
I realise now that being naive to the challenges and potential roadblocks that lay ahead was a huge benefit to the journey’s success. In the face of adversity my perseverance and resiliency prevailed where a more experienced individual would likely be discouraged and give up.
How did you develop this idea?
I fell in line with Give & Surf‘s mission of supporting the communities through education after learning about the education being provided to the children of Bahia Honda, the first community I worked in. Not by design, but by desire we started to offer education programs to this community one by one. The first program was a preschool/kindergarten started with great friends and partners from La Loma Jungle Lodge. Once this program was up and running we became increasingly more ambitious and developed more programs: after-school program, summer school, baseball team, Adult ESl Program, Elementary School ESL program, music program, surf outreach program, and more. It was a natural evolution where as more resources came in more support was provided.
As we developed we added a summer school, an elementary school and then we started to teach Adult English classes and then a music program and really as we developed we also thought we needed to improve for better education facilities.That’s why we started to build an elementary school, we built a library, a garden, a cafeteria and a bathroom.
As we operate, as we see that there is a need, we try to provide that need and add some resources and support grow.
We also try to encourage the grow of the community.
Were you alone in this project?
N: At the beginning my girlfriend was with me and then things didn’t work out there. After a short period we came into that wasn’t for her so I continued alone.
Why in Panama?
N: I knew that there were communities deserving support in Panama and my best friend’s family had built a house here so I knew that I count with that support to start my project. But one of most important reasons is, because here I have found the most beautiful spot in this world!
Tell us a little more about the projects you support
N: Give & Surf aims to provide substantive, hands-on, real world assistance and programs to a hundred and thirty children ages three to sixteen. Give & Surf has constructed and developed two schools in Bahia Honda and Bahia Roja that provide:
- A daily preschool and kindergarten, a summer school, surf outreach mentorship program, after school program, adult and elementary school English programs, music program, and community development initiatives.
- Give & Surf and its supporters also sponsor the continued education of thirty students through a sponsorship program that provides the necessary transportation and school supplies needs of students ages 13-18.
We thank Neil Christiansen for an in-depth and fascinating interview and you guys for reading this blog.
You are interested and you want to apply for the Give & Surf volunteer program? Then click here and join up! You don’t need to give up everything to live a purposeful life, but there’s so much good to be done in the world and volunteering will widen your horizon immensely.