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The water might not be clean, but it won’t stop these kids from fighting for it.

Itacare, Southern Bahia in Brazil is one of the top destinations for surfers and tourists from around the world with miles of white-sand beaches and turquoise water. Located where the rainforest and the Atlantic meet, this beautiful city is known for its lively nightlife, welcoming people, and tranquil nature.

SwimTayka has been partnered with ETIV do Brasil (Education Through International Volunteering in Brazil) in Itacare since their first collaborative programme in 2018. They provide 2 months of swimming lessons, drowning prevention, and environmental education including water stewardship lessons to the local youth.

ETIV do Brasil works in tandem with local communities and partners to bring these programmes to the local children and those living in nearby villages. Their main focus is on supporting the youth and to empower them to become the next generation of leaders in regards to environmental conservation and development.

The majority of kids that come to ETIV for the first time have never been swimming or they’ve never been in clean open water. Jaci Braga, Founder and Director of ETIV, told us about an end of programme trip where they took the children to one of the nearby beaches to practice swimming in the ocean. Even though they are from the area, most of them had never even been to the beach (one of the main attractions of visitors and tourists). She said their faces were glowing. Seeing them have this opportunity to apply the skills they’d been learning in the pool gave her goosebumps. It’s these life-changing moments that inspire the work they do there in Itacare.

However, the quality of water for Itacare’s residents is of huge concern. The biggest environmental issues facing the region are a lack of basic sanitation and deforestation, which both affect the water. ETIV has been trying their best to address these but they find themselves and the community going at it alone as there is very little, if any, government support.

Recently the area around Itacare has been dealing with a couple of environmental disasters. There was an oil spill last year on the coast that they spent over a month trying to clean, the source of which is still a mystery. They also discovered that the river feeding into the nearby mangroves receives garbage and sewage from a mini favela. Only about 50% of households there have basic sanitation services. Most of the waste is flowing straight out to the ocean. Both of these situations are very detrimental to the area and require immediate attention. These projects are too dangerous to involve the children, so instead ETIV has been educating the kids on these issues.

Since April of 2017, ETIV has been partnered with LitWorld and Global Glow, to deliver the HerStory Campaign through the LitClub programme. The mission of the programme is “To inspire girls and support them in creating lives of freedom and fulfillment.” This is achieved through a safe space where they are able to explore their own identities and express themselves through reading, writing, and storytelling.

The LitClub girls, 10-15 years old, were invited to the SwimTayka programmes to connect them to water stewardship and environmental conservation lessons. Through funding from SwimTayka, they were able to secure additional transportation for students from neighbourhoods further away. It was the first ever LitClub programme to participate in this type of environmental education which made it the largest SwimTayka programme at ETIV.

Jaci says she hopes to encourage these girls to use their voices to advocate for their communities and for environmental protections in Brazil as human and environmental rights are being ignored. To keep the children involved in current events, they are working on a plan to lift their voices through campaigns on social media and petitions to the government. Their hope is to empower the children to speak up for themselves.

In 2019, the LitClub girls participated in the first ever Earth Day event organized by ETIV. They shared stories about their water being shut off during the high tourist season and the sewage and trash flowing from the favelas. These blatant displays of discrimination against Itacare’s residents (along with the quality of water) is something that they plan to highlight in campaigns in the near-future, reaching out to local and international communities for support. ETIV wants to make sure that the children know these problems are not their fault but instead it is the responsibility of the government.

Due to the global pandemic, SwimTayka’s 2020 programmes in Itacare were cancelled but 2021 programmes are currently moving forward in April- May.

ETIV considers volunteers and interns as a fundamental resource to the success of their programmes and goals. They provide extensive support and guidance to ensure they are getting a valuable experience. Not just a cultural one, but also professional.

“We believe in the transformative potential of education and we will continue to work with the vital help of our volunteers and partners – national and foreign – in building a more fraternal, just and ecologically sustainable society. The dreams and utopias that led to our foundation are the same ones that continue to guide our paths.” – from the ETIV Manifesto

If you are interested in volunteering with SwimTayka and ETIV, you can find more information here and fill out an application.