Triumph over waves
The one-of-a-kind event witnessed the participation of girls from classes 8 to 11 from St Joseph’s Higher Secondary School and Government Higher Secondary School, Kovalam.
CHENNAI: "For us, getting the girls into the water is not the ultimate goal. Instead, it is to give them the confidence to overcome their fears,” shared Scott Hartmann, cultural affairs officer, US Consulate. Twenty-five girls were part of Riding the Waves, a campaign to train young girls in swimming and surfing skills at Blue Flag Beach, Kovalam.
The one-of-a-kind event witnessed the participation of girls from classes 8 to 11 from St Joseph’s Higher Secondary School and Government Higher Secondary School, Kovalam. Of the 100 girls who had shown interest, the final team was selected based on their aptitude and swimming skills. Explaining more about the programme, Scott stated, “Through this programme, people who are experts in their respective fields are sent all over the world to work with different communities. We have sports envoys training the girls.
Even though it is a beautiful beach, we have only a few people visiting it. One of the reasons for that is people are afraid of swimming. This programme aims at empowering girls. It is about providing an opportunity that may change their lives. Some of these girls may go and work with the environment or some might become professional athletes. Even if they don’t, they will still respect the ocean and take care of it.”
With the training from sports envoys Julia Harbaugh from San Francisco and Nora Deleske from Arizona, the girls learnt the basics of swimming and surfing. Congratulating the girls, Meenakshi Ramesh, executive director of United Way of Chennai, said, “Going into the sea and gaining confidence in such a short time is not an easy task. This programme proved that the girls have that strength within them and they have to take that to many people in their community.”
Building a bond
Even though initially, language was a barrier between the coaches and the girls, they developed a universal language and shared a great affection. Julia said, “The girls have surpassed our wildest dreams. They wanted to go deeper and learn more in three days.” Nora concurred, “We overcame a lot of challenges during these three days. We had the help of translators. These girls were so smart that we would do something in the water and they would replicate it. They taught us a lot and we taught them a lot.”
The Sports Envoy Program of the US Department of State aims to inspire young people and coaches alike in vulnerable communities through lessons in resilience, information exchange, collaboration, inclusion, and education in cooperation with regional partners. After the programme in Tamil Nadu, the two envoys will head to Kozhikode in Kerala to work with local partners to instruct a different, more specialised group of girls in open-water swimming, life skills, and ocean conservation.