Sumba Founder's Story

Sumba Foundation Australia

In February 2014 we were proud to announce a merger with SurfAid to further our work on the island and also to give us Deductible Gift Recipient status so donations to SurfAid Sumba are tax deductible.

For two years I had been waiting for a chance to visit the famed surf break of Nihiwatu, off the Indonesian island of Sumba. In November 2008 I finally set out with my son Alexander and my daughter Georgette – just a dad looking forward to a much-longed-for surfing trip with two of his kids, getting some great waves, and checking out the place to see if it was worth bringing the whole family back the following year. I only began surfing late in life as something to share with my kids, and I grew to love it and searched for great places to go with them. This trip, however, was a turning point in my life. I continue to love surfing, but by the time I left Sumba that first time my life had taken on a new purpose.

I’ve been lucky in life. By 46 I had navigated myself through a number of university degrees, including a medical degree. I had even managed to pass a number of fellowship exams to become an Intensive Care and Respiratory physician. I was married to Kathryn and we had five beautiful children. I felt that my life was complete, and I was ready to reap the rewards of my success for the next 40 years. Or so I thought as I headed off to Sumba. Looking back, I wonder how I could have been so insular in my thinking. Why had I never considered using my good fortune to help people who were less fortunate than me? I guess I had just not emerged far enough from my focus on study, work and family to see the opportunity. But after visiting Sumba, it was right there for me to see.

A life-changing journey
On day two in Sumba, I set out to see the local people. In the surrounding few kilometres from my luxury hotel, I found villages where children were dying of starvation, preventable gastrointestinal disease and malaria. Women and children walked for hours to get water that I wouldn’t have thought was clean enough to bathe in, let alone drink. Adults were blind from easily treated cataract disease. How could this be in such an idyllic location I wondered? Disease in paradise and yet so close to Australia where we have the best standard of living anywhere in the world. I was profoundly affected by what I saw but also incredibly excited by the possibilities. Over the next few days I made several more trips into the surrounding countryside.

A sudden and dramatic new purpose
My surfing holiday had taken on a sudden and dramatic new purpose, so much so that I could hardly sleep for thinking about what I had seen. I was filled with possibilities about what could be done. Even more powerfully I was galvanised by concern about what would happen if I did not do anything. It was this thought that resulted in me committing to start Sumba Foundation Australia with my wife Kathryn.

An enriching vision
I returned to Sydney with a vision. My wife Kathryn enthusiastically supported me and we set out on a journey to bring clean water, good nutrition and improved health to the people of Sumba, a journey which has enriched both our lives, and the lives of our family and our supporters. We feel privileged to work with and know many of our Sumbanese friends. There is no doubt that they have given us much more than we can ever hope to give back to them.

In February 2014 we were proud to announce a merger with SurfAid to further our work on the island and also to give us Deductible Gift Recipient status so donations to SurfAid Sumba are tax deductible. Matt Gilmour and I are both on the board of SurfAid Australia. We are also on the four-member program sub-committee and we will continue to be strong advocates for the projects to be rolled out in Sumba. And Kathryn has joined the fundraising team of SurfAid and will continue in her efforts to raise the necessary funds to continue our work in Sumba. Please accept my invitation to join us on this journey that is SurfAid Sumba.

How you can help
The single most important way you can help the people of Sumba is by making a donation. Although we get many offers of help on-the-ground, SurfAid Sumba does not have the resources right now to co-ordinate changing teams of volunteers while respecting the local Sumbanese. While we thank you for your good intentions, specific teams of local people and SurfAid Sumba members have already been created to achieve the goals of the foundation. Please help by making a donation now. Every contribution helps.

– Dr Stephen Nolan and Kathryn Nolan