Swimathon for Textbooks
One of the aspects I love being the GVI Staff Sports Co-ordinator (and as a Sports volunteer beforehand) is having the opportunity to help teach the students swimming. It is not something that happens very often, but when it does the pool is full of happy, hopeful, and very splashy, students. When my boss Michele asked me to organise a swimathon I was excited and nervous at the same time. This was going to be a swimathon with a twist though…more on that soon. The objective of the swimathon was to raise money to buy textbooks for the students of Olives Rehabilitation Centre and Nyota Ing’arayo School. At the moment a lot of the textbooks are shared between 4 or more students, and often the textbooks have the front and/or back pages torn out. This is not conducive to a good learning environment.
The first task for me was to speak to the people at the pool we use, which is at a local hotel. I spoke to the owner and explained what we were doing – this included explaining what an “-athon” is, as they are not done in Kenya. All of us GVI staff and volunteers did a lot of explaining to Kenyans who were on the whole fascinated by the idea. The owner of the hotel was on board, and gave us a considerable discount on the pool entrance as well as the soft drinks we bought for the students.
We spent some time deciding what the ideal distance was to swim. Our first thought was the distance from Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) to Mombasa, which at 439 kms equates to 21,950 laps of a 20 metre pool. WAY too far! The next was the distance between the two schools, but it was too short. Then the idea of Mount Kilimanjaro was suggested. Africa’s highest peak, in neighbouring Tanzania, at an elevation of 5895 metres equated to 295 laps. Perfect! The bonus also is that friends and family around the world already know about Kili – some have even climbed it!
There are obviously a lot of other details that need to be seen to when organising an event. I won’t bore you with most of them, except to say they take time to sort and not necessarily without stress. For an event that involves children in our charge, a thorough risk assessment is important. There are no prizes for what was on top of the list – don’t let any students drown. No, we didn’t!
What is the twist I am sure you are all keen to know? Typically an “-athon” involves the participants to ask their friends, families and neighbours for sponsorship. In this case it wasn’t feasible. The children, and the people they would ask, live in slums where all their money goes towards food, shelter and other basic necessities. In this case the twist was that GVI staff and current and former volunteers would ask for donations on the students behalf. I am personally very grateful for the individual efforts of two friends of mine – Danita and Nikia. Nikia marketed and organised a walkathon at her primary school in Melbourne to raise money for swimathon. Another school in Canada also got on board to raise money. While students from 3, and volunteers from 6 countries participated in the event, we were sponsored by donors from many countries.
In the days leading up to the swimathon there was one main issue worrying me …it wouldn’t stop raining. Didn’t Kenya realise it was supposed to be the short rain season… to me that doesn’t mean three days straight! People kept asking me “what do we do if it keeps raining”.
My response was always “we get wet, we’re going to in the pool anyway”. When the big day arrived early signs of blue sky were driven away by the clouds and rain. No matter, nothing was going to stop us from swimming the mountain.
There were 20 students selected from each school, split into a morning and afternoon group. Each group was then 20 students plus any teachers or school staff who wanted to swim. During a break in the middle of the day GVI staff and volunteers did our laps. The majority though were completed by the students. Two by two the swimmers completed their laps, with the support of GVI volunteers if required. Some of the students could barely swim and had to be kept afloat by volunteers for the entyrety of their laps. I was so proud of their enthusiasm and determination to contribute and participate. It was absolutely heart warming to see.
There were lots of other great things about the day, but I can only mention a few. People not swimming or on life guard duty were busy cheering on the swimmers – with pom poms made by the students. The sun made an appearance for the afternoon group, something everyone was delighted about. We had a race between a student and a teacher – the student won! For the final 8 laps we had 4 students who were good swimmers and 4 GVI swim together, doing one lap each. I was happy to be one of the GVI swimmers. The 8 of us had a discussion about what stroke to do. Breaststroke we decided – it is more sociable and more photogenic. I had to laugh though as when we said go all the students took off doing freestyle. Josh, a fellow GVI volunteer, and I looked at each other, nodded and took off after them. We got to the end, and had climbed that mountain, when the students took off on another lap. So what were we to do, but to take off after them again! I think of those extra 8 laps as us metaphorically jumping high when we reached the summit of Kili!.
To those that supported us – and there were many of you – I thank you very much and more importantly so do the student of Olives Rehabilitation Centre and Nyota Ing’arayo School. We can buy new text books for each of the students of Olives and Nyota. It will make the world of difference to their ability to learn more effectively.
By Anna Hocking – Staff member
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