The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, a flagship programme of The Little Optimist Trust, will soon be permanently based at the V&A Waterfront’s Battery Park.
For the past three years the academy has been providing sailing therapy to disadvantaged children from across the province.
Using a fleet of unique Optimist dinghies, children are taught the basics of sailing and water safety, before giving them the opportunity to captain their own boat.
Greg Bertish, Founder of the academy, says the move to their new venue was made possible by partnering with the V&A Waterfront.
Bertish says they offer children a unique experience. He says their programme is based on the growth mindset to foster positivity, resilience, sustainability, and hope.
“They learn the basics of sailing and they get to sail their own little boats all within one day and around that we use the growth mindset. We teach positivity and optimism, and we make them feel special. They learn about the environment, and we do basic water safety with them. They go back and share that with their peers and families.”
Bertish adds that the academy concentrates on improving the mental health of troubled youths by injecting optimism and hope into their lives. He says other important topics taught will include ocean health, plastic pollution and safety.
According to Bertish, they work with various children’s organisations including the Reach for a Dream Foundation, 9Miles project and St. Joseph’s Home for kids.
He says they offer the children transport, supply them with a meal and goody bag. They also watch environmental videos, learn how to tie knots, and attend a class at the Two Ocean’s Aquarium.
“Many of the kids do not even know what a yacht is or a life jacket. We plant seeds that help these kids so when they leave, they feel empowered full of self-worth, self-belief and they leave with their medal and certificate. When they leave, they do so with a new skill and passion. We will do other courses that will bring them back at a later stage and take them further to the next step.”
He says they have plans to expand the programme and make it available for private functions such as parties and children’s lessons.
“In future we will be offering courses and programmes for everyone else. This will allow our organisation to become more sustainable as we will charge for that. But you will pay for a half-day or a full-day programme. Each paid lesson will go towards sponsoring a child who can’t afford to pay.”
Bertish says they work with various heavyweights from the local sailing industry such as Two Oceans Marine. He believes the academy can assist up to 400 children a year.
“We offer a super fun day of skills building, learning and fellowship. It’s an experience and opportunity that these children would usually never have access to. Now that we have a proper base, we can have proper classes and a proper programme and more boats. We can also have more qualified training instructors.”
Mark Delany, Chief Executive Officer of Two Oceans Marine, says, “This is an initiative that will change lives, and introduce children to the wonderful world of sailing, while at the same time giving them skills that can lead to future employment.”
Bertish says other Cape Town businesses supporting the venture include Italtile and Southern Wind Shipyard.
The academy has four sailing instructors on board, two of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have gone on to become respected mentors in their communities and the sailing world.
Amir Yaghya and Shane Josephs now serve as role models for learners.
Yaghya says he became involved with the academy straight after he completed high school.
“Greg had just launched the little Optimist race at waterfront boat show, and I was one of the lucky ones to have been a part of that, coming from a development sailing school, opportunity wasn’t always there for me, with hard work and dedication to the sport itself, I found a way to not only enjoy what I’m doing but give back to kids in the same situation as me.”
Yaghya believes the programme will empower the children and create opportunities for them.