Queens Of The Sea - Witness The Mafia Island Girls Conquer The Ocean!

Queens Of The Sea -  Witness The Mafia Island Girls Conquer The Ocean!

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 18th Jan 2017

Here at The Great Projects, we love hearing stories of volunteer successes. Today, we're bringing you a fable of female empowerment, all the way from Mafia Island. Ladies, take it away!

'The Mafia Island Project hosts volunteers from all over the world. One of the things we do to give back to our community every year is to teach local children, usually between the ages of 13-17, how to swim. This is no mean feat considering that local kids seldom have an opportunity to learn to swim, despite living on an island. This year the volunteers, who were predominantly young women, wanted to start with teaching a girls' class. We wanted to give girls a skill the boys don’t have and also let them spend time with the female volunteers so that they can begin to expand their ideas of the role of women in the 21st century.

Meet the girls:

Girls paddling

This brave, bubbly bunch of young women attended classes five times a week (every day except for Wednesdays and Sundays) for 11 weeks. During these classes we worked on various skills, but first we had to build up their confidence in the water and their self-confidence in general.

The most terrifying part of swimming is the idea of not being able to keep afloat: Things like being able to float whilst inactive (and therefore rest in deep water) are key to overcoming anxiety. Floating gave the girls a sense of security and removed their reliance on the shallows and allowed us to push them to try even more than they were able to imagine possible. The girls were also shown different swimming strokes. This gave them huge forward momentum. It showed them that they were more than capable of moving in the water and that they were in control of the experience. Floating in water

At the start, these girls were too afraid to even put their faces in the water. Although they have grown up on an island, societal norms of their community and a general lack of opportunity and interest at home/at school lead to their complete unfamiliarity with, and fear of, the ocean. Most, if not all of them, relied heavily on our volunteers and flotation devices to get them going. That being said, these girls have astounded us with their bravery. Pushing themselves constantly to improve, despite their very real fear in the early stages.

In more conservative families on Mafia Island, it is common for women to be responsible for most household tasks. This leaves no need for the women in the community to know how to swim, as they will never work as fishers or on boats as crew. We started this project with the simple objectives of improving confidence in and out of the water, teaching fundamental swimming skills and also other life skills to young women; but we also wanted to give these girls the opportunity to stretch themselves, to realise that they can do more than they imagine, and that they can (and should) go after the things that bring them joy...and they deserve that joy. Swimming was only a part of the experience because we felt that it was important for these small island girls to see 21st Century women in action and also to interact with them. Our interns acted as role models: confident with their body image, and a myriad of other things.

Mermaid girls

Now, for a timeline: The 11-week program aimed to take the girls from incapable and afraid all the way to independently proficient in the water. To begin, the interns and the class played a lot of games in the water. This aimed to make them more comfortable with the idea of water and to associate it in some way to fun. After one week (five classes) they were all able to float!

Next, we started teaching them freestyle, beginning with kicking. Once they gained confidence, we increased their repertoire in the hopes of giving each girl a chance to find a stroke that made her feel comfortable in the water – because after all, ‘different folks, different strokes!' After four weeks we introduced snorkeling gear, allowing the girls to see what they had to look forward to, and hence motivating them to keep pushing their abilities.

Diving in Mafia Island

A week later, we then took the more advanced swimmers out to swim with whale sharks. This is incredible if you look at their journey. Starting with girls who were too afraid to put their faces in the water, only to end up with a gaggle of self-confident swimmers who are prepared to jump into 20m water with a gigantic animal! Being on the boats close to these sharks is another part of the project, and so we are used to dealing with tourists who are intimidated by these (completely harmless) animals. It was awesome to see the girls blow past their fears and have a fabulous time!

Girls on the boat

For the last two weeks the group worked on skin diving and getting the last few girls out into deep water. By graduation day all of our students were capable of swimming by themselves, and loved doing so. We are so incredibly proud of each and every one of them. Their effort was huge and we recognise the one-of-a-kind experience that we have shared with them. We hope to continue doing things like this – one class at a time.

Now it’s time to start again with the boys (who are really jealous) but before we do, we wanted to give special thanks to those who helped on the program:

Mandy Mehlig, swimming instructor extraordinaire and a wonderful mensch

Katrine Neal - the Duracell bunny, all 21st century woman

Nicole Schroeder - part mermaid, mostly fun, a fab role model

Philipp Eisele - token male, official photographer, motivator, and everybody's darling

And more thanks to all the female volunteers that participated, however briefly, to make this such a success:

Emma, Donna, Kristin, Lisa, Jean, Mada, Mary and Maya!

Finally, thanks to the guys who also give us a hand!:

Neil, Eric, Tristan and Yariek.'

Like what you've read? Why not get involved with the Mafia Island Whale Conservation, and experience this for yourself? Head to our project page now to book your spot!

Running into the ocean


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Leanne commented 5 years ago
Hi Jean - please see that Mandy's name has been added into the blog. We think that her efforts throughout the above were nothing short of remarkable, and I do apologise for the accidental omission of her name - rest assured this was not an intentional move, rather, an error made while transitioning the article to our blog. The above story is wonderful, and we give thanks to you and every other individual that took part. Thanks again for sharing!

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Jean commented 5 years ago
What happened to Mandy Mehlig!!!!! The blonde in the middle of the pictures. The original article original gave thanks as follows; "Mandy Mehlig, swimming instructor extraordinaire and a wonderful mensch". Mandy was our star, our guiding light, our hero, our leader, our teacher.....how did she get omitted. Sorry Mandy....we love you and we will not forget what you did nor forget you. Thank you so much for leading this in your incredibly selfless, loving way that you motivated everyone.

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