What began as a plan to teach English in an African nation turned into a quest to empower Beninese through swimming. Starfish Aquatics Institute is partnering with the non-profit organization Swim Benin and Ghana-based Felix Fitness Foundation to help the residents of Benin, a country on the African coast, to embrace the water surrounding their nation by implementing a customized curriculum to meet the needs of a population that desperately needs aquatics education.
The disparity between how Americans and Beninese interact with the water came as a surprise to Dan Airth when he moved to Benin from California to teach English. It quickly became clear to Airth that living in a country bordered by water doesn’t ensure that people will know how to swim or feel comfortable in the water.
Even though Benin is bordered by water on three sides, Airth was surprised that he often found himself to be the only one enjoying the water, even as children and adult onlookers watched his every move in the water. “I also realized that although kids lived their whole lives surrounded by water, none of them could actually swim,” said Airth, “many Africans fear the ocean but they also believe they can’t swim.”
As Airth began forming relationships with residents of Benin his focus shift from only teaching people English, but to also teaching them the critical skill of how to swim. ”I found that for them learning to swim proved just as empowering as learning a new language,” said Airth.
It is difficult to determine how many fatal and nonfatal injuries occur each year in Benin, since underreporting has proven to be an issue. However, one study reported drowning to be the leading cause of fatal injury in Benin.
Through personal experience with Beninese and the mortality statistics, it became clear to Airth that something must be done. Airth founded the nonprofit Swim Benin to address the key aquatics-related issues facing the Beninese. “The goal is to reduce the rate of fatal and nonfatal drowning in the area through education,” said Airth.
Water safety is a worldwide issue, especially in developing nations that do not have the resources or infrastructure to promote swimming. Airth found that the lack of aquatics engagement in Benin is twofold: fear keeps people away, as well as economics.
In addition to potentially curbing the drowning rate in Benin, Airth has the goal of shifting the culture to be one that not only embraces the water, but also utilizes it as a resource. “As a non-profit training center,” Airth said, “my focus is to train young, enterprising swim instructors not only how to teach swimming but how to make a living doing it.”
Airth and Felix Uzor, whose fitness business in Ghana funds the Felix Fitness Foundation, will lead a course in April using a curriculum developed jointly by Uzor and by SAI. The Aquatic Survival Programme focuses on teaching basic water safety concepts through the use of flashcards. SAI's Jennifer White is working with Airth and Uzor to customize the Starfish Swimming and Safety Training & Aquatic Rescue curricula to specifically meet the needs of the Beninese students.
Uzor and SAI previously partnered in Uganda, where together they trained swim instructors in a unique curriculum combining Uzor's Aquatic Survival Programme and Starfish Swimming Uganda.