How a Swim NGO is born

SwimTayka: The story of how a swim NGO was born

SwimTayka is a brand new Swim NGO founded by Dena Marshall (Portland, Oregon USA) and Bryan Avery (Swindon, England UK).  It’s mission is to teach the life skills of swimming and environmental stewardship to children along the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes. SwimTayka is based in Huanchaco, Peru and have partnered with Otra Cosa Network to launch their pilot project.

SwimTayka is born

In January 2016, Bryan and his fiancée Jody Fry served as volunteers with OCN, providing swim lessons for the kids (Bryan) and baking classes for the moms (Jody).  Their programs went so well, the moms have opened a bakery and sell their pastries around town every week, and Bryan was invited back for more swimming lessons. By then, Bryan and Dena had swum Lake Titicaca together, an 8 kilometer stretch from the Island of the Sun to the Island of the Moon (it was challenging) and had begun planning SwimTayka. They were looking for a location for their pilot project and to launch their new Swim NGO. Otra Cosa’s invitation from Huanchaco arrived at the perfect time.

Fast-forward 12 months to now. Brian and Dena arrive in Huanchaco, wholly thankful for the invitation to be here and for the generosity of their community of donors to help support the project. They are greeted by Otra Cosa staff at the airport and delivered to their apartment, a brand new 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment. Working closely with Jenny Kehoe and Chase Engelhardt at Otra Cosa, they planned out the swim and environmental education programs, grouping children by age and dedicating the morning activities to the pool, afternoon activities to the beach. Their apartment is now a veritable work zone with sticky notes, participant lists, and budgets tacked up in formation on the wall, the couches piled high with donations of swim gear from Bryan’s swimming buddies in the Cotswolds.

The project begins

The project launched in January 2017 when Dena is taken to visit the mothers whose children will be participating in the SwimTayka program. She explained the SwimTayka program to the mothers, outlining their weekly schedule of swim lessons at the pool in the morning followed by environmental education and beach in the afternoon, and then asked each one’s permission to take her children to the pool and beach.  Recalling their positive experiences with Bryan last year and trusting in Otra Cosa Network, twelve mothers signed up to send their children, ages 3 to 15, to swim lessons beginning Monday. By that evening twenty-one children and four mothers had signed up for SwimTayka.

At 8:30am Monday morning January 9, 2016 Dena and Bryan arrived to find the children were already waiting with bags packed by their mothers, containing a change of clothes, towels and sunscreen. They all piled onto a 20-seat combi bus, rode 20 minutes along the dusty coastal highway toward Trujillo. Passing up the 3-wheel mototaxis with a covered back seat they walked another 20 minutes along a dust road to arrive at El Aguaje where two small crystal clear pools awaited, one filled to about 20 inches deep, the other to about 45 inches.  Perfect for the kids.  

Bryan took the bigger kids to the deeper pool while Dena took the smaller kids to the shallow pool where they practiced blowing bubbles, floating, getting accustomed to being in the water.  After a successful first session, everyone packed up and walked back through the dust to the bus stop; it was time for lunch. Everyone was exhausted, delighted and unbelieving that there was still an afternoon of activities ahead.

SwimTayka: brand new Swim NGO

Fine tuning the program

By the next morning Bryan and Dena decided that the little ones, ages 3 to 6, were not ready for a full afternoon of environmental education. The schedule was rearranged, leaving open Monday and Wednesday afternoons and adding in Friday field trips for everyone. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday went off without a hitch with Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the beach.  In the first days of environmental education on the beach, they looked at the earth’s water, the water cycle and ocean currents.

Dena observed “We’ve begun to notice a few things.  One, the kids absolutely love the pool and the beach. Several of the bigger kids are naturals in the ocean surf, even though they haven’t developed strong swimming skills. There is a vibrant dynamic among the families of the Comedor. It’s like an extended family where the mothers look out for each other’s children, the children tussle as cousins, international volunteers are a regular phenomenon and we are their invited guests. It is a special gift and a total joy to be a welcomed part of it.  The honor to be entrusted with another parent’s child to teach them swimming and to discuss the natural environment in which they live is one that we, as parents cannot underestimate.”

After completing one full week of the eight-week SwimTayka summer program, nearly 21 children have been reached. That includes a regular group of 8-11 children and 2 mothers actively engaged every day in the learn-to-swim / environmental education program. Two Otra Cosa volunteers are now working on the swimming program and three others on the environmental education piece.  It’s an excellent start and there is room to grow.  

If you’re interested in volunteering either as a swim teacher or to teach about the environment, apply to SwimTayka here.

SwimTayka is a registered tax-exempt non-profit organization in the US and is currently in process to be registered as a charity in the UK.

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