My name is Hermann Vivier. My wife and I co-founded The Surfer Kids Non-Profit in 2010. And in August 2021 we used that NPO as a trusted community platform from which to launch Bitcoin Ekasi.
The Surfer Kids is a registered NPO based at Diaz Beach in Mossel Bay, in the Southern Cape of South Africa. The program runs 5 days a week, all year round, from Tuesday to Saturday. There’s 50 kids enrolled in the program. These children are recruited from within some of the poorest townships around Mossel Bay: Isinyoka, Asazane, and Fairview. An area collectively referred to as JCC Camp.
The Surfer Kids employs two senior coaches, three junior coaches, two lifeguards, and a primary school teacher. All of whom live in the same township community as the children. The primary objective is to teach the children surfing and Bitcoin, as means of fostering personal and financial empowerment. I manage the organization (from behind the scenes, as far as possible) while the coaches, teacher and lifeguards run the program on a daily basis.
I’ve been closely following developments in the Bitcoin space since late 2013. I originally became interested as a result of the banking crisis and subsequent bank bailouts in Cyprus. That’s what first led me down the proverbial Bitcoin rabbit hole.
2019 was when I first listened to an interview with Michael Peterson, the founder of Bitcoin Beach. The idea stuck with me. A lot has obviously happened since then, culminating with Bitcoin becoming legal tender in El Salvador. But the basic idea with which they started is what we’ re trying to emulate.
I wrote a few articles for Bitcoin Magazine starting in early 2021, which led to an interview on a local podcast where we discussed how The Surfer Kids’ philosophy of commitment, empowerment & personal responsibility aligned with the Bitcoin ethos.
Following that podcast an anonymous Bitcoin donation got the ball rolling for Bitcoin Ekasi. I spent the months of June, July and August 2021 educating The Surfer Kids’ coaches on all things related to Bitcoin, while they worked to identify and on-board spaza shops in the township willing to accept Bitcoin as payment for groceries.
By the end of August we had on-boarded our first shop and we started paying The Surfer Kids’ coaches a small portion of their salaries in Bitcoin, which they then spent buying groceries at the shops we’d on-boarded.
We’ve identified a total of 13 shops in the township and feedback thus far has been generally positive, although somewhat skeptical. The proverbial penny drops as soon as we can illustrate that Bitcoin is real money that can be easily converted back into fiat currency, without a bank account using a peer-to-peer exchange like Paxful, or used to buy real-world goods and services through a variety of different platforms like Bitrefill.
What is the motivation behind launching a Bitcoin economy, specifically in a South African township?
Bitcoin Beach illustrated that (contrary to most assumptions) lower-income individuals are in-fact interested in saving. The problem, however, is that they generally haven’t had access to an efficient form of savings. Something that can outpace inflation.
And nowhere are the effects of inflation felt more acutely than in communities where people live day-to-day. To beat inflation one must invest. Everyone knows not to save in fiat currency. But what do you invest in if you’ve only got a few dollars per week to spare and no bank account? You obviously can’t buy shares or property.
In El-Zonte, El Salvador, Bitcoin fixed that problem.
Bitcoin is easily accessible. You can access Bitcoin without a traditional bank account. Bitcoin can be divided up into tiny fractions (SATs) and bought in very small amounts. And with the lightning network (Bitcoin’s fast-growing 2nd-layer scaling solution) it’s possible to make payments as small as a few cents, at virtually no cost.
Most importantly, Bitcoin is designed to be anti-inflationary, with a fixed supply, making it far superior to fiat currencies as a long-term savings vehicle. Yes, volatility in Bitcoin is obviously an issue, but only over the shorter term. Long-term it’s always reliably out-paced inflation, and then some.
Plus Bitcoin is in fact becoming less volatile over time with each successive cycle dampening relative to the previous one.
Furthermore, in communities such as the township where we operate, businesses are almost entirely cash based. This presents obvious security issues. Proper management of Bitcoin private keys can, however, largely eliminate this risk.
Bitcoin can provide a very high level of security at a very low cost.
Finally, money is key to survival. Every human being on this planet needs money to survive. Money is what gives us access to all the stuff that meet our basic needs: food, shelter and even water. So the old adage ‘Money is the root of all evil’ should in fact read ‘Corruptible money is the root of all evil’.
Large central banks that manage global reserve currencies like the Euro and the Dollar are able to create vast sums of currency at no cost, essentially exporting their inflation and burdening future unborn generations with unimaginable public debts that can never be repaid.
And all this to finance the irresponsible spending behaviours of governments and banks that are too-big-too-fail, yet fail to lend & borrow responsibly.
Bitcoin presents an alternative. A sound, fair, transparent and, most importantly, decentralized system of money that cannot be co-opted to serve the interests of a powerful elite.
Widespread adoption of Bitcoin could alleviate many of the otherwise apparently-unsolvable social ills that plague our societies like wasteful wars and corruption at the highest levels of governments and corporations. Because it holds everyone equally accountable to the same monetary rule-set that enforces responsible financial behaviour.
Morality should not be determined by proximity to the money spigot.
Bitcoin Beach illustrated that Bitcoin is not only a speculative asset, or a store of value. It can function as a medium of exchange, bringing it one step closer to a fully fledged and viable alternative global currency. One that is as fair as it is transparent. Open to anyone with a internet connected device.
If Bitcoin Ekasi (and others following the Bitcoin Beach example) proves a success, then it becomes that much more plausible to imagine Bitcoin being adopted as a fair and truly global currency.
We exist to illustrate the point: Bitcoin is a viable and already functional alternative that can help usher in a better and fairer future for all humankind.