This summer something amazing happened at the ROP – the boys learnt to swim! A Canadian NGO called Koga International contacted us back at the beginning of the year, asking if they could fly some qualified swimming coaches over to Rwanda, pay for the hire of a swimming pool and all transport costs and teach all of our 100 children how to swim. Of course, we jumped at the chance. Like most kids, our boys have a long six-week holiday every summer and, like most kids, they can get bored and restless. But more than that, it’s rare for our boys to get an opportunity to learn a valuable new skill, taught by experts, and to get out of the ROP centre and spend time together in a new environment. So two weeks of swimming classes in a local leisure centre which also boasts a trampoline, swings, slides, table football, ping-pong and pool, was always going to be a winning idea.
Koga international had also come up with the idea of teaching some of the ROP staff to swim in the few weeks before the kids’ classes began. The idea is that now that four ROP staff members have begun to learn how to teach swimming, they can continue the ROP’s swimming programme in the following years.
So two days before the classes were due to start, we gathered the boys and told them they would soon be embarking on a watery adventure. The reaction was incredible – cheering, clapping, jumping, squealing. I don’t know if we’ve ever had such a joyous reaction to an announcement before. They couldn’t believe the staff had secretly been having lessons in preparation for it, and couldn’t wait to start the classes on Monday.
Despite the excitement, some of the boys were terrified at the idea of getting in the water. Most of them had never swum before and felt very uncomfortable with the idea of swimming – particularly with floating and going anywhere near the deep end. But the expert swimming coaches helped them get over these issues amazingly quickly and within a few days, all boys were happily putting their faces in the water and floating unaided. They picked up the front crawl stroke very fast, with young and older boys alike, powering along the width of the pool, faces in water, completely unaided. Many, although not all, of the boys, were also happy swimming around in the deep end by the end of the two weeks, and most had learnt how to do really good dives (and dive bombs).
As coordinators who have watched these boys grow and flourish over the last three years, we felt incredibly proud to watch them launch themselves at the task of learning to swim with such enthusiasm, good humour and bravery. We’ve always known what fantastic boys we have at the ROP, but watching them in a new environment with new people, tackling a scary and difficult task with such grace and good behaviour just reiterated what special boys they are. There was no crying, no fighting, no bad behaviour, just lots of happy boys grateful for the chance at a new opportunity and giving their all. This was especially true of the first group in the morning who had to get in the very cold water and fight through the shivers to swim before the sun had had a chance to warm the water up.
Each child and staff member left with a personalised certificate and lots of good memories.
We hope we can continue the swimming programme next year and maybe one day fulfil the boys’ dreams of taking them all to Lake Kivu to test out their new skills.
We hope you enjoyed the photos of a wonderful two weeks for the ROP boys and staff.