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Adult Learn-to-Swim / Human Interest

ALTS Lessons in Uganda 'Like No Other Experience'

Coronado Masters Association's Kim Shults enjoyed trip to East African country

Daniel Paulling | November 17, 2017

Kim Shults expected the worst when she started her two-week trip to Uganda to teach locals how to swim. She kept wondering whether anyone would actually show up.

The Coronado Masters Association swimmer and USMS-certified adult learn-to-swim instructor didn’t have to worry. She and a group of six others taught 121 adults and 309 children over 10 days during the early-October trip to the Ssese Islands, a group of 84 islands in the East African country.

“I think it’s like that old saying: ‘When the students are ready, the teacher appears,’” Shults says. “There were over 100 adults and over 300 children begging to be taught.”

She made the trip after someone tagged her on Facebook regarding a post about an African water-safety outreach effort. Shults responded, and the person asked whether she had any curriculum she could share. Shults pointed to her children’s book, “Life with Lou: A Swimming Adventure to the Island of Taboo,” which was published in February 2016 and discusses basic swimming and water-safety skills.

The person then asked whether Shults could send someone from her organization to help in Uganda.

“I was looking around me, and I’m the only one,” says Shults, the only employee at the swim school she owns, Learn to Swim Today, in San Diego. “I’m like, ‘I am my organization.’

“I had just put it out to the universe that I needed to start teaching internationally. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like more people can benefit from my skills, so I can reach more people. When they asked, I said, ‘Why not?’”

Shults raised about $4,000 for the trip—she says about $1,000 of that went for vaccines—through her nonprofit Face in Water.

Uganda ranks sixth in the world with 12.77 drownings per 100,000 people, according to data published on the World Life Expectancy’s website. A group of researchers in a 2017 study published by the IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science also called Lake Victoria, where the Ssese Islands are, “the most dangerous stretch of water in the world in terms of fatalities per square kilometre.”

“You’ve got people on the water all day long that don’t know how to swim, that are terrified of swimming,” says Shults, who has taught swimming lessons for more than 25 years. “They don’t have the opportunity to learn at all.”

Shults says 37 adults came on the first day to the resort pool where she and her group were teaching lessons. Some, the 44-year-old Shults adds, traveled miles by canoe to get there and then camped there so they could continue taking lessons.

Communication wasn’t much of a problem for Shults, who has a background as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher.

“I do a lot of hand gestures, but most of them spoke English,” she says. “Those that didn’t, we had translators for us. They wanted to learn so badly that one person would step up to translate. If they were talking while I was talking, they’d tell them to listen.”

She and the other instructors, Shults says, taught the adults how to teach other people to swim, meaning their lessons will pay off beyond the 430 students there in October.

Shults’ nonprofit will receive funding in 2018 from U.S. Masters Swimming’s Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, which will donate more than $110,000 next year to more than 50 lessons providers committed to teaching adults how to swim. The foundation has given away nearly $450,000 to organizations across the country since 2011.

Shults plans to use her grant to pay pool fees for one of her “breakthrough sessions,” where she and several of her teammates teach 30 adults how to swim in one hour, and then sign them up for the Coronado Masters Association for one month.

“They … would like to encourage new members who may otherwise be intimidated by Masters Swimming to join in on the fun,” Shults says. “The USMS grant money will allow CMA to introduce the beauty of swimming to nonswimmers and give them a month of mentoring and encouragement in their new endeavor.”

Shults recommends anyone considering making a trip similar to hers to Uganda to research guidelines and information on the International Life Saving Federation’s website. Traveling to some places can be dangerous, but she’s grateful she made the nearly 19,000-mile round-trip.

“When you’re going to a place like that where there’s not a lot of opportunity to learn, they’re just so grateful to have you,” Shults says. “It’s like no other experience.”

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Daniel Paulling

Daniel Paulling works as the managing editor of SWIMMER magazine and manages content development and production for the STREAMLINES eNewsletter series and articles published on usms.org. He swam for four years at Rollins College and covered Southeastern Conference athletics, Major League Baseball, and the NFL for a number of newspapers and websites across the country, including the Kansas City Star, MLB.com, and USA Today, before joining USMS in March 2017.

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