Share the Surf with Elman Peace

Share the Surf with Elman Peace

Help us create a collection of custom, culturally-appropriate swimwear for the incredible women of the Elman Peace Ocean Therapy program so that they can safely enjoy the wonders of the ocean!
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Words by Leah Dawson

Have you ever met someone and known right away, your life would be changed forever?

That’s how I felt when I met Ilwad Elman. 

In early 2019, I joined a group of inspiring individuals in Chile to workshop with an eyewear company named Karun.  On the first day of the trip, Ilwad and I sat down to lunch next to each other.  Within five minutes an incredible dream, that you now get to be a part of, was born.

For context, as a global leader in Peace Building in Conflict Zones, Ilwad operates her family’s Elman Peace Organization, which since 1990 has been rescuing and rehabilitating young men and women from forced participation in war.  The organization also started the first rape crises center in Somalia, and have since built a robust center for education, rehabilitation, safe living, technical skills, various sports, a nursery and so much more.

{Young women participating in the Equal Voices program at Elman Peace, which educates and equips youth leaders with the tools necessary to participate meaningfully in political processes, photo courtesy of Elman Peace }


So here I sit next to Ilwad, I can feel her forcefield beaming next to me as she starts telling me how her organizations new surf and ocean therapy program has quickly become one of their most profound forms of therapy for the young men in their programs.

To survive the civil war in Somalia, which has gone on for over 30 years now, means you are tough, and that means it is often shameful to cry.  Ilwad explained how this creates a barrier for the boys to heal from their traumatic upbringings in forced war.  But, the ocean has had this incredible effect on the young men, that they finally feel supported enough to weep, that they stop ganging up on each other, that they instead started connecting with one another, no matter which militia they were a part of.

{Members of the Elman Peace Ocean Therapy program playing joyfully in the ocean, photo courtesy of Elman Peace}

Blown away, I asked her if the girls and women have been participating in the ocean therapy as well.

In short, no.  But why?

As a majority Muslim nation, impoverished by extended civil war, access to safe swimwear is non-existent for women and girls in Somalia.  Required by law to cover their body, it is unsafe to swim in their usual dresses, so much so that it is often regarded as taboo for women to go in the ocean because it can be deadly.  (I have surfed in a big dress, it was extremely dangerous and scary).

Many young women are given up for forced marriage, early motherhood, with limited education or skills to work with.  So Ilwad and I turned to discussing how we bring our passions together to solve this problem?

Our big dream began. 

The goals are two-fold: to supply safe swimwear to girls and women to be able to enjoy the ocean and also feel the healing benefits the ocean offers, and to teach sewing skills to help create jobs for women.

With funding help from Audi, at the end of 2020, I shipped a 40 ft container full of 100 rolls of left over swimwear fabric from Seea, 10 huge professional swimwear sewing machines made possible by Suay Sew Shop, 50 soft boards from Global Surf Industries, community water filters from Lifestraw , and various donated items for Elman’s children’s nursery. 

{Here is Ilwad Elman upon the arrival of the container filled with textiles, sewing machines, and other donations shipped from the USA  to Somalia. Two years from concept inception, our 40ft container landed at the Elman Peace Center. Photo courtesy of Elman Peace}

{Contaminated water is responsible for millions of deaths. Donations for clean water filtration systems can truly be lifesaving. Here is Ilwad with the LifeStraw Filter donations we sent in the container.  Photo courtesy of Elman Peace}

The Future is Bright - Sharing the Surf

Seea has created a group of swimwear items for the women and girls of Somalia to eventually learn to sew at Elman’s new sewing shop!  Swimwear sewing is the most difficult of sewing skills, so participants are beginning with simpler items and fabrics as their skills develop.

Eventually, we aim for the Elman Peace sew shop to be able to employ women to sew and produce their own swimwear to be shared, donated, and sold throughout Somalia, and in turn enabling women and girls to enjoy the wondrous effects of the ocean.  With the plethora of surfboards now in Somalia, we aim to seed surf opportunities for young women and men across the extensive coast of the horn of Africa.

In the interim, Seea is producing swimwear to be donated to the Elman Peace participants so the women and girls can begin their surf and ocean experiences while the sewing factory develops.

Right now, we are inviting you to join us in helping these women access the ocean.  By donating to this great project, your donation will help pay for a suit to be made by Seea for a young woman in Somalia!  You can add a donation to your Seea purchase in your cart at checkout, or you can make a stand alone donation by adding the donation to your cart here.

Once we meet our donation goals, all additional funds will go towards Elman Peace’s ongoing Ocean Therapy program.

Sometimes we can take for granted the simple pleasure of going in the ocean, or swimming in a body of water, or simply walking down the street to buy groceries or water.  Meeting Ilwad and following her extensive work since, has cemented in me to never under appreciate the freedom to go in the ocean, to work, to be a woman safely in society.  If we have the means to help other women towards these freedoms, may we join together to do so.  

{The formation of love and connection derived from the ocean, here is the Elman Peace Ocean Therapy group in action!}

To see more work from Elman Peace,  please visit

Follow Ilwad and her courageous, monumental work @ilwadelman

Donate to help us create swimwear for the women in the Ocean Therapy program here



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