Kain Sissons wants you to know that helping others doesn't have to be complicated. A local surfer who's spent many years alternating between working as a project manager on building sites and traveling the world surfing and exploring, Kain has seen and done things many of us only dream of. But the thing that's got him so psyched - the thing that he is going to pains to tell everyone about - isn't the waterfalls in Iceland or the endless barrels of Namibia, it's how simple and easy it can be to help others.
He has invested a lot of effort creating an event designed to both raise money and awareness of how we can do a lot of good with little hassle.
We sat down for a coffee with him to learn more about what is driving this passion and how we can all get involved...
Black Gold: You have put in a whole lot of hours that could have been spent in the ocean to create this event. Where did the original idea for it come from and why are you so driven to see it through?
The whole concept of Project Purpose started when I came across John and Jack Rose, from Waves for Water, in South Africa. They offloaded ten filters to me, because they knew I was going to Madagascar on a surf trip.
The ease of how that all rolled out, surfing three times a day and in between surfs going to meet locals and showing them how easy and great these filters were in places where they would walk three or four hours to get water. I was dumbfounded, genuinely dumbfounded, that I could give them access to clean water.
The thought came, "Why have I never done this before? And why don't people know about this when every single person in my circle of friends travels a lot?"
The fundraiser for Project Purpose came up to raise funds to get these filters into the local area, to take any hassle out of it. So it's as easy as going and grabbing your board, if you’re going to Indo, or backpacking through Africa, or whatever - why not just chuck a couple of filters in your bag?
Then there's the environmental part of it, instead of buying ten packs of bottled water when I was there, I’d grab a 20-litre bucket and fill it up with the town water and filter that into my own drink bottle and I would have water all the time. I thought, "I have to show people how easy and simple this is!"
In three years time, it hopefully will become a normal thing for people to do. Go to the surf shop to buy wax, grab your pair of boots to go to Nepal or wherever, and grab a filter while you're there. Just like taking your sunscreen, you know?
What led you to Africa in the first place?
I went to Africa because I knew nothing about it and I was restless from my job so I went there solo. I bought a 4WD and started driving up the coast, got to Jeffreys Bay and hung around for the WSL comp. They had a thing in conjunction with Waves for Water, which I'd always seen on the webcast, but then I met the guys and actually got involved with them through Get it Done, an organisation run by the local church in Jeffreys Bay. Somehow all our circles combined and it was all in front of me and I thought, "Look how cool and how easy this is!" Once I put it into place I just wanted to do more.
Out of all the stuff I did over there: town planning, education, infrastructure work, drainage, crop systems...the clean water stuff was the thing best-received by everyone over there. Just having clean water to drink, they were genuinely like, "Wow, this awesome!" I also had cholera myself so I know what it’s like! (laughs)
Yeah, and for me as a westerner, I got flown to hospital but the local people just have to deal with it, they don't get the access that we do. It is real - the cholera, the dysentery, the salmonella. It is everywhere.
You obviously saw a lot of that first-hand travelling through Africa, the effects of bad water, as well as seeing how useful the filters are. Is your goal for this event to raise money to give to Waves for Water, or is to encourage people to buy filters and take them when they travel? Or both?
We are raising money for Project Purpose – with Project Purpose we have a bank account of credited water filters.
Some of the funds will go to the Nepal Relief initiative, which is something that is happening now. They've already got 4,000 filters in Nepal. Generally the military come in and set up the infrastructure and clean water for the cities, but the good thing with these filters is that people on foot can actually go to the villages that are most affected, that can’t be accessed by cars or anything. They can get clean water to the smaller villages by taking these filters.
Some of the money will go to the WSL project, which runs when the WSL has an event, like during the Fiji Pro for example - they went to villages less than an hour away from Tavarua that have no access to clean water and provided them with filters. When it's on in Brazil they go to the favelas, when Bells was on they did Haiti, because of the earthquakes there...So some money raised will go towards that.
The rest of the funds will stay in the local area. So say after the event, if you were to come to Finbox, you could come in here and grab one for free and whether you and your girlfriend are going to India, or even if you're going out to a remote Aboriginal settlement in the middle of Australia that's on bore water, you need a filter to drink the water and these give you the means to do that.
Or if you’re travelling through Nepal or Mongolia or whatever and you meet some people boiling water or you see tourists buying bottled water, leave a couple of filters behind for people. It helps the environment too. We've all bought a 24-pack of bottled water while traveling - now you can just have tap water and filter it, then leave it behind for the local population to have access to clean water.
At the same time we're trying to inspire and educate people to show them that you don't have to be a cliché aid worker, you don't have to be a missionary, or be in the peace corps or anything... Do what you love, have fun, surf three times a day and in between that, while you're waiting for the tide to drop or something, go out into the villages and set up a couple of water filters, you can literally change some peoples lives.
I've done it and it's so simple. It's hard to put it words. I wish I had done it earlier, I had already traveled half the world. I look back at photos now and I think, "Imagine if I had taken filters there and went back to revisit them and saw how they had tanks and systems set up!"
One thing I noticed in Madagascar is that they burn the forest to make charcoal, and that charcoal is used so that they can boil their water. So they're destroying their own rainforests just to boil water.
Yeah, wow...I had no idea that access to clean water was such an integral issue to society...
Yeah, actually in Madagascar they were telling me that the child who was the fittest, their job was to run for water, the weakest child would get an education and then the girl would stay home to prepare food and farm. So they're assigned jobs...but now, through these filters they are able to use wells that were drying up and had contaminated water in them. With the clean water stations we set up, we gave those villagers access to use those wells again so that the kids can save themselves four hours a day, that would normally be spent fetching water, and they can get an education. The roll-on effect is massive. That day made me realise this is so simple. Simple and easy. It's no effort.
And it's not just for the surfers, so many people go through South East Asia. We want to take any extra effort out of it, so if you're on your way to the airport and you stop in at Finbox to grab a coffee, make sure you pick up a couple of filters.
The words that just keep coming to mind are the ease and the simplicity. Imagine...my mates are in Mexico at the moment, drinking bottled water. The town water is not safe to drink. Imagine if three out of ten people set up a couple of tanks there in a school or in a main street. Tourists and locals could fill up with clean water there and help the environment at the same time. There are so many benefits from this stuff.
So explain exactly what Project Purpose is for us then.
Waves for Water empowered us to start our own project. Project Purpose is an organization in association with WSL and Waves for Water. Project Purpose is somewhat a Waves for Water initiative, but it's self-run and self-funded from here.
That’s awesome, it will be so great for us to be able to have such easy access locally to be able to help others as we travel! Tell us more about yourself personally, did you grow up in the local area?
I grew up in Bulli. I lived in Campbelltown for a while, but then moved back down here.
And so you grew up surfing round here and travelling a lot...obviously you've been to a lot of places around the world...
I've been everywhere except South America, that's the only continent I haven't been to.
That's awesome. Do you just froth on surf travel then?
Travel in general! The people, learning, everything. The last trip was the best I've done - that was sixteen months in total. I did the Atlantic completely, from the southernmost point to the northernmost point. That was pretty cool.
Now I'm home, I still don't have a car or anything...maybe there's a reason why I don't have much right now. It makes it easy to leave. I'm going back to do another mission.
The places you've seen and the people you've met along the way - is that what's given you the passion to want to see sustainable clean water and things like that continue?
It's seeing the reality of it. And also those moments when you think, "How am I able to feel this good and be so happy?" Then you look across the road and see someone who has nothing. The simplest thing they want is some clean water and education.
I guess it's been a pretty organic process, I've just met great people along the way. People like Bianca Buitendag and her boyfriend Lucas, just hearing stories of things they've done has made me think, "I want do that." Everything has just rolled on from that, it's been such a natural process. Just connecting with these circles, I feel like my life's a lot better. Not to get too spiritual or anything, but I feel like now I'm able to see things differently and have more confidence, just to have a lot more faith in everything I've done. I don't really know how to describe it exactly but I feel like I can do anything and that's a pretty good feeling. It's limitless.
What do you hope to accomplish on the night and what do you hope for people to take away from that?
I guess the idea is just really to get the whole community together to feed off each other's energy with all the people that have contributed. Everyone's got a story to tell - network with other people and tell your story and then we'll be educating people and opening their eyes up to the simplicity of the whole thing. We want to inspire people to be on that feel-good train. Do what you love, have fun and do a little help along the way.
We’re getting photographers, artists and local board-shapers involved. To me, they're the people who inspire me to do good things. Everyone's all about travelling, good vibes and doing good. With a lot of people's energy together it can become something bigger.
In a nutshell, the main thing I've been thinking to myself is imagine if I was doing this ten years ago, when I first started travelling. One filter can provide for a hundred people. Say you did one filter a week, over three years, the effect of that would be huge. It's that simple!
I just want to show people how easy and simple it is. It inspired me and made me want to do more...and I guess this is me having a go at doing that for others! Which is a bit scary. And I'm just a dumb builder (laughs).
Well I certainly wouldn't say you were dumb! I guess the point is that anyone can do it - you don't have to have the qualifications of an aid worker or anything...
That's it! You don't have to put any pressure on yourself at all. Just have it in your pocket, maybe the first five times you might be too shy but there's no pressure and there are no expectations from any big organisation or anything...just take it with you and see what happens!
The Project Purpose fundraiser is happening Friday, July 10 from 6pm at the Timber Mill Studios on Molloy St in Bulli.