My connection to the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas began in 2003 when I was a student at the Island School. Although I enjoyed the experiential learning and sustainable lifestyle, my most profound experience was with the community outreach program. Each Wednesday I got the chance to go into the local community and work with my 5th grade partner, Georgina Thompson. With each visit and activity, I learned more about her life and community.
After a swimming excursion we took with the 5th grade group, I learned the most shocking thing about Georgina—she could not swim. This discovery was shocking since Eleuthera is 110 miles long, but only 1 mile wide. Georgina was petrified by the very thing she was surrounded by — ocean.
I returned in 2005 to research why Eleutherans did not know how to swim. Although Sally Elliot and I found our answers — fear, lack of access and knowledge, culture, history and even Jaws — we also found that there was a desire to learn about the ocean and swimming. As we swam by the local jetty after our interviews, kids began to follow us down and ask for lessons. 35 children later we had started what would become Swim to Empower.
I have learned that swimming is more than a life skill—it is leadership opportunities, overcoming a fear, a reason to achieve, newfound passion, something to be proud of, curiosity and conversation. Over the past 4 years more than 200 children and adults on Eleuthera have created a dialogue of what the ocean means to them — both personally and as a nation.
— Brenna Hughes
Over the past 4 years Swim to Empower has grown and is now in 5 different communities throughout Eleuthera — Deep Creek, Wemyss Bight, Green Castle, Tarpum Bay and Gregory Town. We have taught over 200 children and adults to swim and we have trained 7 Teacher Aides to co-teach and share their knowledge with their peers.
Our goal is to create a self-sustainable program — run by Bahamians, for Bahamians. Although we had hoped that the Teacher Aides would become the instructors and perpetuate the program, teenage pregnancy and the prevalence of drugs have hindered this path. Therefore we are working with the Bahamas Swimming Federation and the Bahamian Olympic Association to access their network of expert Bahamian swimmers.
Our vision is to have Bahamian swimmers run swim programs not only on Eleuthera, but throughout The Bahamas. Each swimmer would return to the island where they grew up and run a 4-6 week Swim to Empower program each year.
We are starting this journey in the summer 2009 as we bring 20 Bahamian swimmers to Eleuthera to teach in 5 communities for the month of July. With the help of these competitive swimmers, we are looking into expanding the program into the communities of Harbour Island and James Cistern. This pilot program will be run and if successful will be expanded into the program described above. This is a very exciting time for the program as we move forward in realizing our goal of self-sustainability.