Anyway, my main character in the book, a boy named Promise, is based on several aids orphans I met in South Africa and Zimbabwe. I sort-of combined their voices into one. But there also really is a black South African surf champion, and his name is Kwezi Qika. Kwezi was my primary source of inspiration for Dance. I used his story as a foundation for mine: In an area of the world with 16 million aids orphans and groaning poverty, turned away from school and with little to hope for, 14-year-old Promise was a boy destined to fail. Yet Promise has a dream to become a surfer champion, and that dream will not let him go. Promise’s struggle to shoulder the responsibility of his little brother and sister—his father dead, his mother dying—is a story of aids survival from close up.
Here’s a video of Kwezi and Gary Kleynhans. Gary taught Kwezi to surf and swim when Kwezi was 12. In another life, Gary fought with the South African forces in Angola. Now he runs a surf school for street kids: aids orphans and kids whose parents are unemployed, so they can’t afford school fees and the children end up on the street.
What I love about this clip is the grin on Noble’s face when he says, “I see myself going far.” It’s what keeps me returning to places of conflict around the world: the children’s voices. Once these kids have a dream, there’s no stopping them. To check out Gary’s Extreme Surf School and how we can help, click here.