Swim Teaching Primary School Children. Mombasa Kenya.

Swim-tech on tour 2010 & 2012
With the Mikoroshoni Primary School

We have always wanted to do some overseas voluntary work and so this year we set out to get involved. Why Kenya? Well as a youngster I would listen to my father’s stories of his time in Kenya serving his army conscription and after also learning a splattering of Swahili I became interested to see and learn more. 
Since then we have been to different parts of Kenya and Tanzania on Safari and camping seeing both the beautiful and brutality that is Africa. 

I was reading about how the accident rate was high in Kenya around the coast because there were very few swimming instructors and even less public swimming pools especially for the poorer off Kenyan’s and their children. My wife works for SAGA holidays and she told me about a primary school in Mombasa that had been visited by SAGA charitable trust and the two went together. I contacted John Brooker who runs “The Friends of Mikoroshoni” charity in the UK and straight away he thought my idea of teaching swimming and water awareness to some of the poorest and most under privileged children from the Mikoroshoni School was a fantastic idea and he gave his full backing and support.
An equal amount of enthusiasm also came from the SAGA charitable trust based in Folkestone Kent. 


Janice Lee who assisted greatly using their contacts Somak travel in Mombasa who sourced a hotel swimming pool for us to use that did not mind the teaching of young local children.
All we needed now was swimming costumes, goggles, floats and help with paying for the pool hire, children’s transport, food and anything else I had not thought about.
A plea to the Triathlon community was answered with offers of costumes and goggles from members of Deal tri and the Tri Talk forum. Goggles and floats came from Lyndon Dunsbee the pool manager of Folkestone Sports Centre along with some financial aid from Deal tri organised by the chairman Gary Holmes and backed up by the 2010 Discoveries award winning Elna van Der Ryst and Dover business Spencer & Cleverly owned by Ivor Spencer. We were ready.
Before starting the swimming sessions Julie and I visited the school and were met by the headmaster Joshua. Straight away I could tell this man was special, he was unassuming, could be easily passed in the street but you could sense what his life was about, and what he wanted for the children of the Mikoroshoni primary school and the whole Shanzu community. He also enthused about what we were going to do and was as excited about it as we were. He invited us to visit all the class rooms to see the work the teachers were doing and to meet the children especially the 30 he had chosen for myself to teach. What really broke the ice (not difficult in the sweltering Mombasa heat of the small classrooms) was when I introduced myself in Swahili, the children’s mouths dropped and so did the Head masters. After that I had to speak Swahili in every classroom.

The next day we started the swim sessions which were done as three groups of ten pupils, each for just over one hour on two non-consecutive days. We would like to have done more but this was all we could afford this time and of course without interrupting normal school life to much. The children were both sexes aged between 8 and 14 years old, with the majority in the 8 to 10 age span.
It was soon very clear that this definitely was the first time anything like swimming had been attempted, as the costumes were being put over their clothes or back to front. Once the children got over the giggles of seeing each other in swimming costumes we started by slowly walking down the steps into the pool. Again more giggles as they felt the water slowly moving up their body as they stepped down.
To us all very normal, to the children all very new.


I started the water awareness with slowly walking holding the side, then walking freely forward, sideways and backwards followed by running. We then went on to bouncing up and down whilst walking. This we followed by chin on the water and then bubble blowing and noisy bubble blowing. Progression took us to breathing out underwater and pushing off the floor to surface.

Friends of Mikoroshoni

“We started the feeding programme after we were told by Joshua about a boy who had come into school sweating profusely and shivering terribly. He told the teacher that he hadn't eaten for 3 days. Joshua also told  us of some  younger children who were eating leaves because they were so hungry.”

I wanted to introduce some basic float work and so we worked on kicking front and back holding the float in the maximum support position on the front and holding tight to the chest on the back. This again was all done with constant giggles from both the swimmers and those waiting their turn. Finishing with a blowing the float race which was competed for the same as any swim gala event
It was then time to introduce jumping in. I demonstrated the star jump entry and then it was the children’s go. Not one was worried about giving it a go and all completed three jumps successfully.
Next it was the goggles and these were soon to be realised a great fun learning tool. Once I had checked each pupils fitting we started with standing head on water, duck down, sitting on the bottom and finally diving under to count how many fingers that I was holding up whilst sitting on the bottom. As I now expected all counted the fingers including how many on each hand when different.
The final game was my version of “Pirate treasure hunt” The children had to start by jumping off the side with goggles, move on top of the water under their own movement to the pool steps where we had place 20 Kenyan Shilling coins on the bottom step. They then had to dive down and pick a treasure coin and get out of the pool.  
All the pirates went away with their treasure.


After each session we gave them a large bottled drink as rehydration here is vital and a banana or two chosen by us over other food for its nutritional value.
As they waited on the hired bus to return to school all I saw were smiles followed by a spontaneous singing of Jambo Bwana by all the children which we joined in with.
The Headmaster asked them if they would like a swimming lesson each day.
The answer? YES PLEASE.
It should be remembered here when watching the video or seeing the pictures that these children had never swam or been near a swimming pool.

So what did we achieve? Why not put the money spent directly to the school?

These are very good questions and ones that we thought about before starting.. We choose the swimming/basic water awareness instruction instead so that we could give the children a life lesson about water and its dangers and also its pleasures. Hopefully it will never have to be challenged in an accident situation. We also wanted to give the children a totally new learning experience and stimulation outside that of any they were likely to come across at the current time. Life must also have some pleasure as well as living. 

The Teaching Tech bit

The session plans were set around water awareness and basic survival as the main aim. The walking, running, under water and above water breathe control and float games were used for this. Movement once semi prone (front and back) was restricted to kick work to allow basic propulsion using a buoyancy aid. Only some arm work (Pulling whilst walking techniques) was included due to the pool time restrictions.
A shallow water entry was included encase of falling from the river bank (Mombasa is an Island) as there can and often is found here debris around the waters edge.  
Although it would be unlikely that goggles would be available in an accident situation I used them as part of guided discovery when collecting the coins under the water. I was more interested in getting the children to feel comfortable going under the water for a longer time than just a small bob under so that this left them needing a breath. This let them practise how not to take water in when stressed. They were also used for the novelty factor.
All sections of the plan were used but alternated constantly to keep attention span high. I also used teacher/pupil questioning and pupil/teacher feedback to monitor understanding using both English and limited Swahili to keep listening active. 


At the beginning of the sessions I explained the “Rules” so that encase of an emergency a set order announcement was understood. I used STOP as a simple means of halting aqua activity.
As always with teaching FUN was used constantly and play but as it should be, with a purpose.
What did surprise me was the children’s very high power of visual observation. It was far greater than I am used to. An example was the streamlined “hands on” position. I only showed it once with no explanation of the hands position but the children followed the position including the hands on. The same thing can be seen with the floats and especially the goggles, which after seeing me rest them above my eyes they all followed suite when above the water.
This made me work far harder in my demonstration and the use of pupil demonstration. It really was a case of 99% right 100% wrong.

Comments by swimming teachers on the methods used most welcome.  Please Email HERE


The ‘Friends of Mikoroshoni Primary School’ is a small independent charity.
We have the full responsibility of raising the necessary £25,000 each year to keep the school open.
We provide a free education for 300 pupils and this involves paying all the teachers’ wages, purchasing all the equipment required by the school and paying all the other bills, including electricity and water bills.
A gift of £30 a year will contribute towards a child’s education and also to the further development of the school community.
If the Gift Tax Form is also completed it means that we can claim another £7.50 from the Inland Revenue making the gift worth £37.50 in total.
Supporters are provided with a photograph of a ‘link’ child, regular newsletters and summaries of the head teacher’s reports.
For further information please see the Friends of Mikoroshoni website

In 2012 we returned and taught 48 children with help from two friends Ivor and Steph Spencer who had helped sponsor the first trip and now helped again. We hope to return again in the near future.