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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Sophomore Sally Elliott and first-year Brenna Hughes have founded their own non-profit, called Swim to Empower, through which they plan to offer swimming lessons to an underserved community. But unlike similar programs that have targeted inner city populations with little access to open water, Hughes and Elliott will be teaching a population that is entirely surrounded by water - the community of Deep Creek on the tiny Bahamian island of Eleuthera.
Eleuthera is a 200-square mile strip of land off the coast of Florida. Elliott and Hughes met there during a high school study-abroad program called the Cape Eleuthera Island School and were surprised to discover that on an island where "every community is a coastal community," at least 80 percent of the population was unable to swim. Through surveys and research, they learned that many of the islanders would welcome swimming lessons. In March 2006, they will return to the island to spend a term teaching swimming, first aid, water safety and passing on their training skills to others. Currently, Hughes and Elliott are getting the needed certifications to teach first aid and to train others as instructors and lifeguards. Said Hughes, "We're hoping this will become a self-sustaining project.
Eleuthera is home to just 8,000 people, many of whom descended from slaves brought to the island to farm its inhospitable soil. Hughes and Elliott learned that culturally, the inhabitants lack deep-seated connections to coastal life. (The island's indigenous population was enslaved by British colonizers and eventually died out completely.) Since the Bahamas gained independence, Eleuthera has been devastated by poverty, widespread unemployment and a moribund tourist industry that tanked when the collapse of Pan Am Airways cut off commercial flights to the island. Although learning to swim might not revolutionize life on the island, the women hoped that their offer of lessons might empower the people of the 500-person community of Deep Creek by giving them more ownership and appreciation for their local landscape. They hope the program will prove especially beneficial to Eleutheran women, most of whom cannot swim.
Hughes and Elliott were pleased to discover, through a local official who became one of their students, that many islanders did crave swimming lessons, for reasons both abstract and concrete. Some islanders told the women that they were interested in learning water safety. Other islanders told the women that they had always feared swimming in the ocean because of the movie Jaws, a reminder, said Elliott, of the immense impact of the United States on a place most North Americans have never heard of.
So far, Swim to Empower has provided swimming instruction to 15 Eleutherans of all different ages and they've held one fundraiser. Currently, the duo is seeking more funds, through donations and grants.
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