Swimming lessons at home in the UK are part of the school curriculum and usually supplemented with private lessons. I must admit, being able to swim was something I took for granted until I arrived in Huanchaco, Peru.
Otra Cosa Network arranged for swimming lessons to be provided for the children of El Comedor during the summer holidays by Bryan Avery. Bryan is a volunteer with a passion for swimming and a keen interest in teaching this skill. As I was volunteering for three weeks during the summer, it was arranged that I would help Bryan with his lessons.
The children were so happy to see us each morning when we arrived to take them to the ocean (yes, the ocean). They were grateful that someone would give up their time to take them to the beach and teach them how to swim.
From the outset, Bryan had constructed lesson plans and a structure from where we could assess the abilities of these children and help them progress.
The first day was very interesting. We planned to take a couple of children into the water each and have one volunteer staying on the beach attending to the other children. However, the children were so excited to be at the beach they all jumped in! Fortunately, we had Quique with us in the team! He is Peruvian and so could speak to the children in Spanish, unlike Bryan and me who can get by with some basic words and body language (for the moment)! He managed to coax the majority of children out of the water and we took four children each and asked them to walk towards us in the water. Part of the first stage assesses whether the child can walk forwards, backwards and sideways for five metres. I think at this point we realised the difference between teaching in the ocean and teaching in a pool. There were rocks underfoot which made it difficult for us never mind the children. We went through these steps with the older children first and then invited the younger kids into the water. As the ocean was deep at points we couldn’t do these steps with the smaller children but being in the water with us seemed to build their confidence of the ocean.
Bryan was clear from the beginning that the stages took weeks to complete and it wasn’t something we would rush through. Instead, we would take our time going over each step in stage one before moving on!
We gradually introduced moves like the starfish and putting your head under water. The waves determined how much we could teach in one day. Our aim was to teach for an hour and then play games and have fun for the second half.
What I think made a huge difference was introducing a weekly visit to a swimming pool. Bryan and I spent a morning searching for an accessible and suitable pool to take some children to each week. We found one in La Fuente.
We then selected the five children with the most swimming potential. We took them to the pool for an afternoon. Before we took them we went over some water safety so when we arrived we reminded them of some basic steps like entering the pool safely and walking five metres. We also went over the movements involved in the front crawl and breaststroke. We had a relay competition between two teams too. It was amazing to see how the skills were cemented in the pool. We then played some games such as searching for goggles at the bottom of the pool.
After a break we took the children through the first stage and later awarded them with a certificate. The second week was just as successful. We took the older children this time. This was an attempt to teach them and then for them to pass on the skills to the younger children.
It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I was part of it. I’m delighted to hear the progress Bryan is making and disappointed I couldn’t spend longer in Huanchaco to see the developments.
Although a hugely rewarding experience there were certainly some challenges.
Firstly the language barrier. Although I used my basic Spanish every day, I heavily relied on my body language to communicate with the children. We built up a good relationship based on this but there is no doubt at times it was frustrating not to speak the same language.
Secondly, the setting. Although beautiful and exciting, the ocean is not an ideal place to teach young children how to swim. It was great fun and we have definitely helped build confidence in the ocean and raise water safety awareness. However, the pool was a much more suitable setting for progressing through the stages.
Thirdly, funding. Unfortunately to enable the trip to the pool we needed money for transport and entry to the pool. There was no funding in the Otra Cosa Network pot to take the children but by raising awareness on social media money is being raised and this has enabled Bryan and his team to continue these trips.
In the three weeks, I spent with Bryan, Quique and the children I saw huge improvements in confidence and ability. I am sure with the extra time and funding Bryan and the team have the results will be remarkable!
Good luck and keep up the good work!