Amie Forsyth – Swim Teaching in South Africa

A swimming teaching project in South Africa can be rewarding and a life saving gift. Amie explains the positive impact the trip had on her and the rewarding work she did in teaching young South Africans how to swim.

What reason brought you to South Africa?

I went to UTS South Africa because I’ve been really involved in coaching kids back home in Scotland for the past few years and its something I’d like to continue to do – so going to do this in South Africa with underprivileged children was a new challenge for me, in so many ways. It put all of my coaching experience into practice in a completely different environment and taught me how to adapt sessions based on different abilities and equipment available etc. It was also to gain some life experience and see the world from a different perspective. To experience a new culture and meet new and fantastic people from all around the world!

What were your expectations?

I expected to have an amazing time, to teach amazing children and to make good friends with other volunteers – but I didnt expect to have as an amazing time as I did. The children are the happiest, most grateful and loving children I’ve ever met, and to coach them was such a rewarding experience. As much as I was teaching them, they taught me a lot too. I expected to gain confidence in my coaching, by expanding and learning new coaching drills, which I did! I also expected to have to learn to adapt sessions a lot depending on the facilities available, the equipment, the weather and the children’s different abilities – which I did too.

Describe why these photos mean so much to you…

The first picture means a lot to me because it was my very first week in South Africa and it was at the summer school. This first week I wasn’t really confident yet, but I really enjoyed coaching the kids, but also getting to really bond with the children that came each day. This one girl was only 1 year old, and really shouldn’t have been there! But her older sister wanted to come along, and had been looking after her little sister, so she gave her to me while she went to join in. She was the sweetest tiniest little girl ever and it was so nice to see her bigger sister get to join in and have some fun!!

The second picture was at Oosterland Childrens Home. We coached there every Wednesday afternoon and the children were such hard workers. They were so keen to learn and always really motivated, they were such fun to teach! These 3 little girls can’t touch the bottom of the big pool and they really couldn’t swim the first week we got them, but by the final session we got them in the big pool with noodles, and they managed to kick their legs all by themselves without us holding them, this was the most rewarding thing to see – I was so so excited and proud of them!!!

Actuality versus expectations (what are the biggest differences)?

One of the biggest differences is how real the poverty is out there. You don’t realise just how real it is until it’s right in front of you. Many of the children I coached didn’t have towels, they didn’t have swim suits and some of them as old as 14/15 could not swim at all. I didn’t realise before I went exactly how much we’d be giving them through coaching, and how much they need it. I didn’t realise how big an impact sport would have had on them, but the children love it!! They work extremely hard and they really appreciate everything you do for them.

Highlight of your coaching/teaching experience

The highlight of my coaching experience was when we had our final session with a group of children who required additional support. There was one boy in particular who I had worked with from the start, he was around 14 years old and could not swim at all, he had no confidence in himself or the water (unlike most of his classmates). I had gotten in the pool with him week after week and he had always worked really hard and pushed himself. By the final session, he managed to confidently swim half the distance of the pool completely without my help multiple times. This had to be the best feeling!!! I was so proud and it felt like my time with him and all of his hard work had really paid off! Seeing how happy and proud he was of himself also, was such a proud and rewarding moment for me!!

What are you going to miss most about UTS?

I’m going to miss everything.. even the showers and the dinners!! But I’ll miss getting up every morning, in the most amazing country I’ve ever been to, and heading away out to coach swimming with the swimming team the most. As a group, we worked so well, we had such fun, not just between us but with the children too!! We all enjoyed and made the most out of all of it – learning something new every single day. No two days were the same!!

What have you learned from your experience in South Africa?

I’ve learned so much from my experience in South Africa. First off, it was my first time away from home, so I’ve become so much more independent. The children too taught me a lot, they taught me how little you really need to be happy and now being home I can absolutely say I’ve taken that on board!! They taught me that no matter how little you have, you always have something else that somebody else would love to have. I learned so much from just being in Port Elizabeth and speaking to taxi drivers or people at the football game we went to! In Port Elizabeth, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you have and what you don’t have, if your nice to somebody, they’ll be nice to you too! I’ve also learned how much more there is to learn, now that I’m home I’d love to learn another language and see more of the world! You also learn just how real the poverty is in places in the world, and that wherever I can, I will do my part to help.

What would be your reason to come back to UTS in Port Elizabeth and why would you recommend someone else to go?

I’d come back to UTS in Port Elizabeth because I feel there’s so much more to see, so many more kids to coach!! I’d recommend anybody to go because it is by far the best thing I’ve done in my life so far, I’ve learned so much about myself and the world, and knowing what you’re doing for these children and how much they appreciate it, is the most amazing feeling. I can’t imagine anybody who wouldn’t want to feel that!!

Last message to your UTS Family

🙁 I think you are all some of the most amazing, or as I always say ‘brilliant’ people I’ve ever and will ever meet. Some of the best memories of my life are with you crazy people!! Keep being who you all are, because you are all so wonderful in your own ways!! We’ll see each other again 🙂 🙂 big love to you all xxxxxxxxxxxxx