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Meet Millie: powering up projects, and bringing va-va-voom to volunteering

At SwimTayka we are all about supporting existing projects in locations around the world, which are already working with the local community. What we bring is our volunteer swim instructors, to create a swim programme or to support a swim programme that a project already runs.

We work in many far flung locations, but we want to partner with even more projects, which we believe will benefit from the SwimTayka model. We teach children to swim, which prevents drowning, and we teach water stewardship, which helps the environment, the planet and all of us!

And there’s nobody better to help us achieve this than the one and only Millie Dorgan.

Millie works with our current partners and is also looking at setting up new and exciting partnerships.

Millie’s story

Millie hails from Northampton, England and began swimming at six months old – a real water baby. She swam for a club until the age of about 16, took a break and got back into it at 19, swimming for her town’s local club.

“I got to the age of 21 and was working at the time in marketing, but it was office-based and I found I had itchy feet,” says Millie. “I saw an advert from a charity for a learn to swim teacher in South Africa. I’ve always loved swimming, wasn’t qualified but thought I would give it a go.

“I had been saving for a car but decided to forget that and blow the money on a flight. I was so nervous when I handed in my notice but my boss said ‘I didn’t realise you even liked swimming that much’! So I went out to South Africa and loved it.”

Millie’s next step was to return to the UK, where she took her swimming teacher qualifications and then worked for two-and-a-half years to get fully experienced as a learn to swim instructor.

“I still had itchy feet and I just thought that as I had such a great, lifesaving skill, I should go abroad again to help teach overseas. So I applied with the same charity I’d worked with in South Africa for a position in St Lucia, as head of learn to swim and running my own swimming programme.”

It was here that Millie first heard of the team at SwimTayka. She learnt about our project in the Bahamas, and even tried to get across to volunteer, but the timing didn’t quite work out.

But we loved Millie and we knew she was the perfect person to help work on our programme development, bringing in new partners and new volunteers.

Millie moved from St Lucia to the Caribbean, and is now based in Dubai as a learn to swim coach and programme manager. She’s 100 per cent committed to helping SwimTayka, by forming relationships with potential new partners, and can’t wait to get first-hand experience of a SwimTayka project in 2021.

What does SwimTayka look for in a partner?

The key essential is that the projects are water based. With Millie’s help, we are identifying projects working in developing areas, with children who live near the ocean, river or lakes. We can support learn to swim programmes they already run – such as our local partnership with Love the Oceans in Mozambique  – or we can set up a swim programme to run alongside their other work, as we do in Peru with Otra Cosa Network.

“We’ll spot a project doing amazing work and see how we can add value, with our learn to swim programmes, sending in volunteer swim teachers to get children confident in the water and prevent that risk of drowning,” says Millie.

“Sometimes projects don’t have a swimming element. Others do, but they need help sourcing volunteers, and that’s where SwimTayka comes in.”

Millie is working closely with potential partners, and once we have finalised details we will be announcing who they are and where – we can’t wait to reveal all.

Who makes a good SwimTayka volunteer

According to Millie, a good volunteer is proactive, adaptable and able to think outside the box.

“Teaching swimming in these locations isn’t the same as teaching in a pool in the UK,” says Millie. “For example, when I was in St Lucia we were teaching in the sea, because we didn’t have access to swimming pools.

“Being flexible is really important. You might only have two floats between eight children. If you are in the sea, you can’t drop sinkers and get them to pick them from the bottom. We used rocks or shells instead, and whoever got the most would win. You can’t say ‘ready, steady, go jump in…’ so we would draw a line in the sand and see who could run in the quickest, so the children would have a similar sensation to that of a quick total submersion.”

Finally, a positive, upbeat attitude is essential, as it puts the children at ease, when some of them are very fearful of the water. If you’re happy, they’re happy!

Is language a barrier to being a SwimTayka volunteer? Millie doesn’t think so.

“If you have any languages that would help, of course, so if you were to volunteer for the Peru project then speaking some Spanish would be an advantage. When I was in South Africa it was in rural areas and they speak 11 languages, and not necessarily any English. You learn to resort to using signing. And of course there are local people working on the projects who can help interpret.”

So what does Millie get out of being a swim teacher?

“It’s real job satisfaction. After you have seen a child who is so fearful in the water learn to swim it’s a wonderful feeling. You just know that, without that swimming skill, if they were in a dangerous situation in the water they wouldn’t be able to get themselves out of it. Once you have taught them to swim, and you see them independently and calmly moving through the water, you know that you have made a real contribution to their safety.

“People see swimming as a hobby. It isn’t. It’s a lifesaving skill and I love being part of that. I am really relishing working with SwimTayka, getting new projects on board and bringing in volunteers. It’s such a worthwhile experience.”

If you like the sound of volunteering as a swim instructor and are qualified, or if you are connected to an overseas project which could benefit from a swim programme, then please get in touch with the team here at SwimTayka. Drop an email to volunteer@swimtayka.org.