En-route to New York

#SwimForChange founder, Christopher Kleynhans, takes part in his swimathon in 2018.

A 16-year-old Wynberg Boys’ High School pupil will represent South Africa at an international youth summit in New York in March.

Christopher Kleynhans has his own non-profit organisation, Swim For Change, which he founded in 2015 to promote mental-health wellness among youth (“Swimathon fundraiser,” Bulletin, March 7 2019)

Last week, Christopher learnt he had been selected as a 2020 Global Teen Leader by the We Are Family Foundation.

Thirty-five teen leaders representing 18 countries across six continents will meet in New York City from Friday March 27 to Friday April 3 for the We Are Family Foundation’s 12th annual Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit.

“They are engineering sustainable skyscrapers, developing urban gardens, healing relationships between communities and the police, and developing tools to detect serious illnesses, as they demand a lead role in shaping our future,” said summit spokesperson Fran DeFeo in a statement last week.

The non-profit We Are Family Foundation promotes cultural diversity and mentors young people who are positively changing the world. It was founded in 2002, as a response to 9/11, by musician Nile Rodgers. The foundation takes its name from the eponymous song Rodgers and Bernard Edwards composed and which become a hit for Sister Sledge.

The foundation’s Three Dot Dashyouth initiative was inspired by the late critically acclaimed poet and peacemaker, 13 year-old Mattie J.T Stepanek. Three dots and a dash are Morse code for the letter “V”, a hand signal for peace.

Christopher says he has loved swimming for as long as he can remember, and when he was 13 he decided to hold annual 12-hour “swimathons” in support of mental health, something he felt was not discussed often enough despite the countless lives affected by mental illness.

People of all fitness levels can take part in the “swimathons”, whether they choose to swim many kilometres or just one length on a floatie.

Swim For Change raises awareness about mental health and challenges the stigma associated with mental illness. It also educates teachers and parents about supporting youth with mental illness.

Christopher continues to run “swimathons” and also hosts workshops, podcasts and blogs about mental health. It is his work on social media that caught the attention of the We Are Family Foundation. In 2019, Swim For Change was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize Award and Christopher was invited to the Nobel Peace Laureate Youth Summit in Merida, Mexico.

“While Swim For Change has currently impacted over 6 000 young South Africans, my goal is to reach at least 20 000 more students,” says Christopher.

He wants the South African government to implement a national suicide-prevention plan and require mental-health policies in schools.