Surfing foundation spreads waves of a mother's love to disadvantaged children

When Kimberly Iriarte brought her son Jhonaikel José Bolívar into the world, she became a selfless mother. She thrived on giving the warm embrace, the kiss goodnight, the home-cooked meals, and the "I love you" whispered with affection.

Her only son was born in 1997, in La Guaria a city few kilometers away from Caracas, facing the Caribbean sea. He grew up close to the sea and wanted to become a surfer. Iriarte bought him the board, a bodysuit, sunscreen to protect him from the sun, and accompanied him to Los Cocos beach, which is well known for its good waves. She brought with her a bag of fruit and water because she knew that the training would leave her boy hungry and thirsty.

That was the first of many Saturdays spent on the beach, sitting under a tree while she watched her son ride on the waves. And as time passed, Jhonaikel became a competitive surfer, which made his mother proud.

But one day something went wrong. Jhonaikel, 15 years old at the time, suffered a muscle contraction in the middle of a session, far from the shore. His lungs were filled with water and he drowned.

The pain of losing her son was too great for Iriarte, so she stayed away from the sea.

A year passed, and on the recommendation of her therapist, Iriarte returned to the beach to face her grief.

There she saw many abandoned children, which gave her an idea.

"I will make a foundation that carries my son's name to attend to those little ones who need love. I'll do it for him," she told herself.

So Iriarte founded the Jhokaiel Bolívar Foundation surf school, which provides free surfing lessons to children at Los Cocos beach every Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There are instructors who teach them to master the waves; but also to take care of the beaches, to be responsible, supportive and good stewards.

The surf school provides its students with a board, a swimsuit, the sunscreen and gives them fruits - mangos, oranges, cambers, sideburns - and water.

"This is a very disadvantaged area. The children we serve tend to come from vulnerable and precarious places. Some have been with us since we started, and I have never seen the face of their parents. It's like they don’t care about their children. So we know that deep down what they need is love,” Iriarte said.

Currently, the foundation serves 35 children and young people, between three and 20 years of age. Of those, 19 are founding participants of the project: since they arrived five years ago, they have not left.

Elvin Rico, one of the instructors, says that working with the children has been satisfactory.

"In the middle of the economic and moral shortage of the country, we [aim] to teach them to love their neighbour, to do the things well, that effort and perseverance make you [successful]. That your dreams can come true. It has been a way to transform their environment: for children to educate their parents, for their families to grow with them,” he said.

Although the organization has requested financial support before, it has not obtained it.

"We work thanks to partnerships with some brands and donations. But we continue working with our nails. Many times we stay [afloat] because some representatives get involved and make contributions” said Iriarte.

The founder laughs when she says that her house became the headquarters of the foundation. Every Saturday and Sunday, with the help of her volunteers, she moves the material on foot along a long boulevard, under the blistering sun of the coast.

"We do not have a vehicle, and we have no other option."

It is hard work, but Iriarte does it for her son, Jhonaikel.

The foundation has managed to train sucessful athletes. A couple of years ago, it supported one boy to travel to Isla de Margarita to compete in a national surfing event. From there he returned as runner-up.

Iriarte and his instructors waited for him at the airport.

"We received him with a treat, we took the flag of the foundation and we applauded it. At that moment I cried, but with joy. It was nice.”