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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.
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