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Championing swimming for children in Peru

One thing we love about SwimTayka is the wonderful people we get to meet across the world.

So we’d like to introduce Paul, who works with our partner Otra Cosa Network (OCN). OCN’s focus is teaching English to Peruvian youngsters living in Huanchaco, as well as running programmes on literacy, environmental awareness and swimming – which is where we come in.

Paul coordinates the SwimTayka project in Peru – in fact, pardon the pun, he ensures it goes swimmingly!

He organises the volunteers and the children, administers the budget, oversees the finances and prepares the classes. He also develops the curriculum, to ensure we cover not just swimming but also environmental education and water stewardship.

Why is a swim project so essential? 

Huanchaco is coastal. Indeed, it is one of the most popular destinations in the country for surfers, with fantastic waves and year-round swell.

But these very features, so attractive to tourists, make it a dangerous place to grow up if you can’t swim. As World Health Organization stats show, drowning is the third highest cause of unintentional injury death across the globe. That’s a sobering thought.

“Children inevitably have contact with the ocean so it is an essential life skill to learn to swim to prevent drowning,” says Paul. “Teaching children to swim isn’t part of the school curriculum and nor do children learn out of school, because there aren’t the resources to teach them. So this means third parties, like SwimTayka working with Otra Cosa Network, need to take this on.”

How did Paul get involved?

“It’s a long story, but I started working with OCN teaching some employment related classes – like how to write a CV – and gradually I got more involved. I was asked to help with SwimTayka and it went from there. My focus is to find people who can volunteer and to build a solid local team who can help teach swimming and water stewardship.”

But Paul’s not a swimming teacher himself. In fact this may come as a surprise, but Paul himself has never learned to swim. Like so many people living along the coast in Peru, he was never given the opportunity.

“I never got the chance to learn when I was a child. Even though I come from a very supportive family who gave me lots of opportunities, swimming wasn’t one of them. I can really identify with the children on the SwimTayka programme who come from low income areas and who don’t have access to things they want to do, like learning to swim.”

This is definitely something Paul is planning to rectify. Learning to swim is one of his goals for 2021. As he says: “I will one day swim like a dolphin!”

Volunteering as a swim teacher

The success of our swim programmes depends on the help of volunteer swim instructors. We recruit volunteers from all over the world, but there is a lot of local involvement in the Peru project.

“There are local tutors in our area, also people who were swimmers who have helped us – even Olympic trained swimmers,” Paul says.

So what makes a good volunteer?

“Of course they need to be swim instructors, but it also helps if they have experience of working with kids. Knowing what positive language to use, and being a kind a role model.”

Dozens of children are taught to swim every year, thanks to the SwimTayka/OCN partnership. But we would love to do more, as there is a waiting list. The more volunteers we have, the greater the number of children who will learn this essential lifesaving skill.

The overseas volunteers, who stay in the OCN volunteer house during their visit, get so much out of their experience. They learn about Peru from socialising to the children, and many of our volunteers go back home with some wonderful tales to tell – as well as a fair few of the children’s drawings!

A big part of our project is teaching the children how to care for the environment they live in. Paul says: “The extra benefit of this is they take this learning home, and talk to their parents about looking after the environment too.”

So how do we know that we’ve succeeded in our mission? The evidence speaks for itself.

“We had one child who was very fearful of the water, very timid. One of our instructors, Eduardo, worked directly with him. At the end of the programme he wasn’t just swimming he was also diving. His parents realised how much he loved swimming and they were able to build a small pool at his house, and that’s all he wants to do – swim and dive!

“SwimTakya offers a very special place where kids can socialise, swim together and learn how to take care of their environment and the ecosystem.”Tempted to volunteer? Or want to find out more? Then please get in touch for more information or to sign up.