Surfing and yoga on the beach is helping heal victims of Somalia’s war

Somalia has the longest coastline in mainland Africa, stretching more than 3,000 kilometers (1880 miles) across the Horn.

But for decades, those pristine beaches remained untouched and devoid of people and activities. And as the nation gained a semblance of peace in 2011, Somalis flocked there to swim and eat at newly-opened seaside restaurants, only for them to become a target for terrorists. The attacks on beachgoers was a testament to the continued erosion of safe spacesamid an increasing wave of brazen and hellacious violence.

Ilwad Elman, a 28-year-old social activist, wants to change that by leveraging the ocean’s proximity as a way to heal old wounds and alleviate the problems of war. Through her organization the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, the 2017 Quartz Africa Innovatorworks to reintegrate former child soldiers and assisting victims of sexual violence. The prolonged conflict, limited care facilities and the social stigma associated with mental problems have meant the prevalence of mental illness in Somalia—one in three according to the World Health Organization in 2011—is higher than in other low-income and war-torn nations.

To deal with this, Elman has introduced yoga and surfing therapy as a way to explore the therapeutic benefits that spending time in the ocean, learning to surf, and connecting with one’s body through yoga can have on victims of war. Elman says they hope to explore these alternative techniques to therapy and counseling to empower young people to open up, share their stories, and challenge the emotional and psychological stress they face on a daily basis.

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