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16. February 2006

Girls in Chennai at the edge of the pool © Elisabeth Kasbauer

Elke,Hedi, Eva with women © Edit Schlaffer

Future Trainers ©Elisabeth Kasbauer

The future trainers in Chennai.

swimmer © Elisabeth Kasbauer

Swimmers in Mamallapuram © Elisabeth Kasbauer

Swimmers from the coastal villages relaxing after the training.

Ms. Jacob at learning swimming © Elisabeth Kasbauer

Ms. Jacob in her first swimming lesson in the Anna pool in Chennai.

Girl swimming © Elisabeth Kasbauer

water ball © Elisabeth Kasbauer

India - Women Swimming into the Future!

Women in the Tsunami hit-region of Tamil Nadu in South India are trained to swim in this unique project.

With the support of the Sports Division of the Austrian Federal Chancellery and in cooperation with the Austrian Swimming Association, the Austrian Life Guard Foundation and the Austrian Youth Red Cross, the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation Limited.

Strange, but interesting…!” was the initial reaction to our idea to organize swimming training for girls and women in Chennai and Mamallapuram.

The idea had strong logic. Women without Borders (WwB) considers sports as an important tool for the empowerment of women. Numerous studies have shown that regular sports has a positive influence on the development of strong self-esteem., The aim of the program was to help the women who participated to gain self-confidence, to get to know their own skills and talents and to gain control over situations, relations and life.
Knowing to swim may also spell the difference between life and death.

A study by the renowned British aid organisation Oxfam done in March 2005 revealed that the Tsunami on an average took the life of three times as many women as men in the areas surveyed. There were several reasons for this. For example, in the costal regions women tend to stay at home with the children while their husbands are out at sea fishing. In addition, another critical reason was that due to an absence of sport activities for women in the affected areas, poor body constitutions meant that women were not able to climb on to roofs, or up trees or other higher areas to escape the fury of the waves.
This is the rationale behind the swimming program initiated by Women Without Borders (WwB).

"After the Tsunami our lives changed a lot. We still suffer from this catastrophe and many people are traumatized .. Such programs give us trust and make us feel comfortable in and with water. This is very important. Many people died in the Tsunami and we are scared that it will happen again. People have to know how to swim, especially mothers - they have to save their children." (Selvi, 25 years)

Under the slogan „Swim, enjoy and win!” we organised an intensive swimming training in the Tamil Nadu region of southern India from February 2 to 8, 2006.
Elke Reicht and Friederike Seidl from the Austrian Life-Saving Federation and Hedwig Weirer and Eva Zagorz from the Austrian Youth Red Cross were in charge of the professional training of a total of 45 girls and 14 future trainers in Chennai as well as 24 women from the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu in Mamallapuram.

The response was overwhelming: everyday the girls and women came to the training brimming with energy and happiness –mothers and fathers standing at the edge of the pool proudly watched their daughters swimming “I am so happy that my daughter has the chance to learn how to swim. That’s great!. She is so excited that she doesn’t stop talking about swimming!” says a father who accompanies his daughter every morning at 6’O clock to the Anna swimming pool in Chennai.

The south Indian press is also quite excited (please see some reports below). Several press reports covered the sheer joy with which the local people on the streets approached WWB officials and the swimming instructors. “You in the press, swimming – you help!” an exultant Tamil man expressed his gratitude in broken English.

The training for the women form the coastal villages in Mamallapuram began with some difficulties; the women were uncomfortable in the western style swimming costumes we provided. They used their saris to cover their bodies and were so worried about their outfits, that they were hardly able to concentrate on the swimming. Overnight we produced new swim suits and the women felt so comfortable that they started to learn how to swim with enthusiasm. "Thank you for this great opportunity!” shouts 22-year-old Menaka from the pool, looking at us. Their cheerful faces showed how much they enjoyed the water. “Swimming makes me feel so happy. I like it so much to have this self-control, I just can be who I am and I feel so free in the water. I am learning a lot from this program and since it started I gained a lot of self-confidence. I am not scared, I just trust in myself and move around. Furthermore it is very healthy to move, you feel much more comfortable", says 22-year-old Sudhalakshmi.

The women were very talented and some of them rapidly took to swimming, swimming right through the pool without any help even on the first day. “We will bring them to the next Olympic Games”, says Hedi Weirer, one of the Austrian trainers, winking.

The training for the girls and future trainers in Chennai was the last event of the day. With the active support of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, the program was a huge success. On the third day of the training program, Ms. Jacob, the general manager and a former competitive athlete decided to participate in the training. After the first two hours she said: “No, it was not hard at all, I just enjoyed and was concentrated. I am a hard worker, nothing is impossible for me. I am a sports woman, and sports women never feel old. Now I am 57, with 52 I started to drive and now I am rushing with my scooter through the Chennai traffic. This programme is a golden opportunity!

Translators helped the trainers to overcome language barriers, but language was not an issue “You don´t need words, you can just show it” says Elke Reicht. Indeed, sport has no borders.

On the 7th and last day of the training Women without Borders-certificates as well as pens, key fobs, T-shirts and teddy bears from the Youth Red Cross and the Life Guard Association were given to the girls and women. Participants, parents, trainers and WwB were proud of and impressed by the positive energy which brought us all together for that one week in Chennai. We cherish warm memories here in the Viennese winter.

Our great thanks to Archana Kapoor! Without her support the project would never have taken off. Archana has also produced the first Women without Borders film! “Different Strokes” had its premiere on February 20th in Vienna at the UN press conference “Sport for Development and Peace.”

The 1st Women without Borders film "Different Strokes!" which covers not only this project, but also the other two WwB projects in the south Indian Tsunami-hit region, can be ordered at office@women-without-borders.org">Women without Borders (price on inquiry).

Links zu ausgewählten Presseartikeln:

Hardnews: "Taking the plunge"
The Hindu: “Empowering women through sports

DNA India: “Fisherwomen in tsunami-hit areas are now learning to swim”

Newkerala.com: “Now, Tamil Nadu women learn swimming to confront future Tsunamis” 


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