As someone who grew up by the sea in Ireland, I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn how to swim as a child. I would put on my yellow swimsuit that had a white pleated skirt attached, run down the garden, cross the road, clamber over the rock wall, and wade right into Dublin Bay. I still remember how my dad would stand right next to me and tell me to lie flat and put my face in the water. “Trust me,” he’d say, putting his arm underneath my tummy, promising to hold me up. I would scrunch up my eyes, hold my breath, and put my head down in the briny green. Then he would roll me over and I would lie back and look at the sky. “Kick your feet” he’d say and my plastic red shoes would break the surface in chaos. There we would stay, him patiently holding me, me blindly trusting him until we’d both got cold. He said he would never let me go. And the day he did, the day he knew I was ready, magically, I could float.
Since then, my life has been about being on, in, or under the sea. During my school years, I trained as a lifeguard; as an adult I had a career as a scuba instructor, and more recently, I’ve been privileged to live full-time on top of the waves.
And so it was, in 2019, while we were anchored for several months in the beautiful country of Grenada, I was honoured to be invited by Deb Eastwood to volunteer for Get Grenada Swimming Week. Here was my chance to pay it forward. Deb had come to the Caribbean back in 2007 and was astounded to discover that although the 20-mile-long island was surrounded by water, 90% of the population did not know how to swim. They would visit the white sandy beaches but not venture into that glorious azure water much past their ankles. She set out to change that and founded Grenada Youth Adventurers with a focus on teaching everyone, especially children, the valuable life skill of swimming.
In addition to weekly classes, twice a year she holds intensive swim weeks on various beaches around the island. Gary and I were delighted to assist at Grand Anse. Deb, a powerhouse of enthusiasm and energy, briefed every volunteer about how best to teach the little ones. Bubbles. It was all about blowing bubbles that first morning. Asking each child put their face in the water and blow bubbles. I stood beside young Zaria, as she dipped her head in the water for the first time, just like my dad had with me. And when she raised it again, behind those pink goggles, her eyes were full of wonder. “I did it,” she said, “I did it.” By the end of the week, she could kick, use her arms, and propel herself through the water.
On that final Friday, my yoga teacher, a young woman in her thirties, revealed that she was another one of the 110,000 Grenadians who couldn’t swim. I have so much admiration for those who learn as adults. Although, I was able to give her some private lessons in the weeks that followed, the learning curve was steeper. But before we left Grenada, I was happy in the knowledge that, in the words of Deb Eastwood, she would “be safe if she found herself in water above her head.”
So, wherever you are in the world, if you know how to swim and can help pass on the skill, maybe you would consider volunteering at a project in your area. Or, if you are one who has never learned, maybe this is the year you embrace the challenge and benefit from exploring the amazing aquatic world. Happy Swimming!