March 28, 2018
The idea of a swimming program originated when Robin Bolton (see profile in “Volunteer Profiles” in “About” section) volunteered to visit Ile a Vache in 2016. Most children on Ile a Vache play in the water but do not learn to swim, and drownings are all too frequent. So with the goal of getting a swim program started and training some adults to continue teaching swimming, Robin planned a trip to visit Ile a Vache in October 2016. Prior to going he ran a “Swim Suit Drive”, hoping to collect 500 swim suits and was amazed at the generosity of swim stores, swim clubs, the YMCA and individuals as he received over 2,000 in less than two months. This meant that every child at the La Hatte school received a swim suit at the start of the program.
Unfortunately, an uninvited guest, Hurricane Matthew, arrived over Ile a Vache three days after Robin’s arrival and the first week of swimming instruction was impossible. However, classes were held at the beach at Soulette Bay every day in the second week with some 130 children receiving lessons and 8 adult volunteers receiving instruction in how to teach. On the final day, all the children who wished to do so were tested in water out of their depth to try to attain a certificate for swimming 10, 25 or 50 meters. Above all else, the objective of the program is to teach children sufficient water skills that they prevent themselves from drowning in the event of an accident. If they can avoid panicking, float and swim a few meters to safety, many lives will be saved in the years ahead.
Robin thought he was leaving the program in good hands but subsequently learned that the program leader had made financial demands that would have created an imbalance with classroom teacher compensation and the program fell apart.
In January 2018 Robin and his wife, Dianne, sponsored a mature Haitian, Nestor Destil, in whose house Robin had stayed in 2016, to visit New Jersey for ten days to learn how to become a swimming instructor. Poor Nestor, who had never been north of Florida before, arrived when temperatures were well below zero and snow was on the ground. Nevertheless, he bravely attended sessions in the local YMCA two or three times each day. He learned about water confidence, water safety, floatation, stroke technique, and teaching methods. He also helped to teach pre-schoolers and autistic children and watched the competitive swimmers training. By the end of his visit he was competent to teach swimming and enthusiastic to go home and put it into practice.
Since returning to Ile a Vache, Nestor has implemented the program and already some children have learned to swim and others, who could swim a little before have improved and will shortly graduate the class. There are 270 students at the Good Samaritan La Hatte school and class sizes are necessarily small for safety reasons, so it will take time for all students to be able to participate in the classes. We hope that the program attracts interest from other schools on Ile a Vache and that Nestor will be asked to train other instructors with the ultimate goal of having every child on the island learn to swim.