August 24, 2017 St. George’s, Grenada—It was a steamy Caribbean day six years ago when Deb Eastwood took a group of local youths on a hike in the hills of Grenada. When they stopped at the 30-foot Annandale Falls, her plan was for everyone to cool off in the pool below.
But Ms. Eastwood, a newcomer to this 20-mile-long island and founder of Grenada Youth Adventurers (GYA), was dumbfounded when only two of the eight children jumped in. The rest stayed cautiously back, despite stewing in perspiration.
“The whole reason to go there isn’t to look at the waterfall; it’s to jump in the pool,” she says of her quick realization that the youths didn’t know how to swim.
In fact, she soon learned, 90 percent of those in this island nation did not know how to swim. Two powerful economic and cultural factors are at work: Swimming lessons are too expensive for all but the elite, and instilling fear of the water is a traditional parenting tool, reinforced by the local adage, “The sea has no branches” to hang onto.
But economics and culture did not daunt Eastwood, whose high-wattage and youthful personality is reminiscent of Peter Pan’s. “Swimming is a life skill, and every Grenadian should have the opportunity to learn to swim,” she says.
Her aim: teach this whole nation of 111,000 to swim. Free, year-round weekly lessons and two intensive National Learn to Swim Weeks rely heavily on volunteers and donations from abroad through the nonprofit Friends of GYA. The organization also trains and pays several dozen local residents to teach at beaches and hotels that offer the use of their pools.
Eastwood estimates that 2,500 children and adults have been taught by GYA, and her next benchmark is to teach 8,000 more by 2021. That number is not unrealistic, given Eastwood’s pace and success so far, says Veda Bruno-Victor, general secretary of the Grenada Olympic Committee, who herself didn’t swim until age 30. The GYA learn-to-swim program has jump-started interest in swimming here, she says.
It’s Eastwood’s “sales ability” that has “ignited” the swimming culture here, agrees Nataly Sihera, head swim coach at the Grenada Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Religious Affairs.
In 2005, Ms. Sihera started the first government swimming program, busing children from schools to the country’s sole public pool, a patched four-lane tank. Eastwood’s push has helped her program, Sihera says.
Read more at Christian Science Monitor.