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Diving In: Libby Alexander Offers Free Swimming Classes to the Underprivileged

Diving In: Libby Alexander Offers Free Swimming Classes to the Underprivileged

Philanthropist, Splash founder and Prestige Women of Power honouree Libby Alexander is helping the underprivileged to become swimming literate, remedying an inequality that’s plagued Hong Kong for far too long.

Half the world’s population doesn’t know how to swim and access is incredibly uneven. If you’re a woman or from a low-income background, the chances are you can’t swim and never had the opportunity to learn. This is a global issue, as well as a local one. Despite being surrounded by water and with one of the best public pool provisions in the world, nearly half of the population and an estimated 70 to 80 percent of migrant domestic workers living in Hong Kong are unable to swim.

We started Splash in 2015. Our goal is to give under-resourced communities the foundational skills and knowledge to enjoy the water confidently and safely through 20 hours of swimming lessons. We’ve built a network of professional and volunteer teachers, developed an efficient and effective curriculum, and trained hundreds of volunteers to teach others. More than 6,000 domestic workers, children, parents from low-income families and kids with special educational needs have learned to swim with Splash.

The common assumption is that everyone learns to swim when they’re young. But in fact, swimming as a child isn’t a given. In Hong Kong and many parts of the world, swimming isn’t part of school curriculums. The pattern of swimming illiteracy is difficult to break. Lessons can be expensive and, according to a recent article, “a parent who never learned to swim yields an 87 percent chance that a child won’t learn either”.

What surprised us most wasn’t the volume of people who can’t swim. It was how many people genuinely wanted to learn. Domestic workers, some of whom are in their fifties and above, often will wait two or three years to get into a Splash class. I’ve heard more times than I can count: “It’s my lifelong dream to learn how to swim.”

It’s particularly challenging to learn how to swim as an adult. Being fully submerged in water, understanding water resistance, moving and balancing in a weightless environment – it’s like nothing else. And we haven’t even got to breathing …

There are psychological hurdles too. Many women we teach have traumatic experiences in the water. Our coaches have heard too many stories of near drownings or even worse, when a family member or childhood friend who saved them didn’t survive. We also hear childhood tales about evil spirits living in the water or certain ethnic groups not being “built for swimming”. These are all frightening myths, understandably told by parents who want only to keep their children safe.

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The magic of Splash isn’t just learning how to swim. Splash builds a community where people feel included and empowered. There are few opportunities in life to go after the things that really scare us. But when we take that bold step and we succeed, it’s life-changing. These are the seminal moments where we realise what we’re capable of achieving.

Swimming is a superpower. It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve our physical, mental and social wellbeing. That’s why everyone should have an opportunity to learn.

Source: Prestige Online

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