Meet our Bali volunteers: teaching swimming in the tropics

For only his second time on a plane, taking a journey of nearly 8,000 miles to help teach children to swim on a tropical island was pretty intrepid for SwimTayka volunteer Brandon Carter.

But that’s just what he and fellow volunteer Jemima Brimacombe did this summer, when they spent two weeks in Bali, helping with the SwimTayka swim programme.

They, along with other volunteers, have been working alongside swim instructors and our local partner in Bali – the charity SwimDo – teaching children in the community how to be safe in the water, to help combat the high incidence of drowning. 

Brandon is a student at the University of Sheffield, just going into his third year of a sociology and criminology degree. He also works part time as a swim teacher, and has been lifeguarding since his teens.

Jemima, who has completed her degree and Masters, has just taken a year out, working as a research assistant. She soon starts her PhD at the University of Oxford, on the Interdisciplinary Bioscience doctoral training programme.

Brandon was looking for swimming teacher volunteering in the UK, but came across SwimTayka. “I have always wanted to travel, so this seemed a good combination, and a way to get a good insight into a culture. Going to Bali was only my second time on a plane, so I jumped in at the deep end.”

Jemima and Brandon were teaching children from the ages of about eight to 11, who spoke very little English, so they learnt some Indonesian and Balinese in order to communicate.

Brandon said: “It was different to normal swimming teaching that I do. It was less technique focused and more to do with water survival skills. The language barrier was a fun challenge, but we still managed to make a really good connection with them, and the other teachers helped with translation.”

Jemima is a swimming enthusiast, though but not a qualified instructor, and she was able to support the teachers in the pool, helping get the children confident in the water and learning basic swimming skills. 

“I enjoy open water swimming, which is how I found out about SwimTayka, and like Brandon I wanted to do some travelling this year. I was a bit apprehensive at first, as I’m not a qualified teacher, and as this wasn’t like swimming lessons in the UK, but it went really well,” she said.

“All the children were so sweet, and wanted to be around us. They were slightly scared at first, but they warmed to us.” 

Jemima and Brandon were on the programme for two weeks, and the lessons took place in the three pools made available to SwimDo and SwimTayka.

Brandon said: “They took part in a five-week programme, so our first week with them was on one group’s final week. Then for our second week, there was a new group on their first week. When they came in, most were OK but some were a little anxious. We just needed patience and repetition of the learning, and their nerves fell away.”

Jemima added: “Some of them were following their siblings, who had been on the programme before, so they had some idea what to do which made them even more excited to come.”

As well as helping the instructors, Brandon and Jemima found they were able to have an input into the teaching methods.

Brandon said: “They were asking us if we had any suggestions, so we introduced rolling – so when the children are on their backs, they learn how to roll onto their fronts. I have also noticed that volunteers who came after us have been helpful with ideas and added something new.”

While there, Jemima and Brandon stayed in volunteer lodgings, and became immersed in the local culture and community, getting first hand experience of life on Bali. They stayed on for a few weeks touring the area afterwards, but found their two weeks with SwimTayka the most stimulating.

“People would take us to their houses and their friends’ houses, and they were so welcoming,” said Jemima. “And the food was amazing, with the variety and flavour of it.”

They’d both recommend the experience to anyone thinking of volunteering, and Brandon even enjoyed the fundraising side, to finance the trip: he completed a walking challenge, hosted a pub quiz and raffled a signed football shirt. “I’d not done any of these things before, so even aside from being in Bali, the build-up process was giving me new experiences and challenges.”

And would they go back? Brandon said: “I definitely want to volunteer for SwimTayka again. Looking at the programmes, I think Brazil is the most likely. And Jemima agrees. “I’m toying between Jamaica and Brazil, but I think it will be Brazil because of the seasons and weather.”

If you like the sound of volunteering at one of the many SwimTayka programmes next summer, and helping children learn vital swimming skills that could save their lives, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch to find out more.