“The first day when the groups taught us to snorkel it was very difficult. I did not know how to breathe with the snorkel. The second day we snorkeled and snorkeled, and I saw different kinds of creatures that I had not seen before. I was very happy. I now know that creatures undersea are very important… We saw an octopus that was changing colours. I want to learn more about the creatures undersea.” - Ikho Mtongana from Caradale Primary (800 meters from the ocean)
Ikho sums up exactly what we wanted to accomplish over our 2017/2018 summer season: to inspire more youth to connect deeper with their oceans!
AN AMBITIOUS PILOT PROJECT - Looking back, this season in Cape Town has ben a massive experiment in how we run things at I AM WATER, and we're so happy to say - it has turned out great! However, when we started our new coaches’ initiative we were in uncharted territory.
This 20172018 summer season was our first attempt at creating a community of I AM WATER Coaches, like-minded ocean-women and men who have enough ocean experience to be a safe guide, enough ocean love to want to share it and ocean knowledge to pass it on. Our work in the past has shown that to run safe, inspirational and educational two-day workshops in South Africa you need a pretty significant team. With swimming literacy being below 50% we were pushed to create this sustainable and scaleable model.
We ran two intensive weekend workshops for two separate groups of coaches, and when the dust had settled, we had an enthusiastic group of thirty new I AM WATER Coaches from all ocean disciplines: marine sciences, national sea rescue, lifesavers, scuba divers, freedivers, learn to swim instructors, etc. We feel like they were already over qualified before they started their training, and after an intensive weekend of training, they are ready to step in.
WORKING DIRECTLY WITH SCHOOLS - One of our decisions for Cape Town was to work directly with the schools. This decision was based on a variety of reasons and research findings, but most importantly - for the girls. Often when kids are invited to weekend or after school activities it is easy to lose the participation of the girls as they are often expected to help in the home or with siblings, and for us - working with girls is very close to our hearts. So - the schools: finding a free moment from these under-resourced school principals was easier said than done, but as soon as the principals heard about the workshop’s content and goals - and that it was free, they wanted to sign up their entire school of 1200 kids! Before we knew it, we had about a workshop a week lined up for the whole season along with some weekend pop-up workshops for the general public.
CHOOSING THE TEAM - When a school is confirmed our trained coaches sign up for their role, and everything moves from there. It works like a call sheet. I AM WATER sends out workshop dates and coaching roles to fill, the coaches send back their preferences and availability. Each coach fills a unique role within our workshop depending on their interests and skills. Whether that is a marine scientist pointing out creatures on the rocky shores, a life saver guiding kids on a snorkel, or a dive master helping the kids pick up trash on the beaches, they all know how to contribute to a well run I AM WATER workshop.
One reason we were particularly excited to experiment this season was because we needed to simplify the costs of our workshops. Now we know exactly what it costs us to run one workshop: workshop equipment, transportation for youth, lunches, and coaching fees are all included in that number. We pay our coaches a fee each time assist, and this simple change has allowed I AM WATER to better plan upcoming finances and reduce the cost of getting more kids in the water. We only spend once a workshop is confirmed and we know exactly how those funds are being utilised.
THE IMPACT - For this first Cape Town pilot we are happy to share that we took 245 kids from low income communities snorkeling with this new model. Each and every one of these kids live within 5 kms of the ocean, and 70% say they had never seen beneath the surface of the waves with a mask or snorkel although judging from the creative methods they used to put their masks on, we suspect a higher percentage. These new ocean explorers had never seen below the water’s surface to witness firsthand those alien-like creatures that Ikho spoke about. They had never seen an octopus change colours and crawl along the rock pools with its eight arms, three hearts, and nine brains. Now they have a taste of ocean curiosity that nothing can make them forget it.
NEXT UP - After all the work to get where we are today, we are optimistic about the future. By the end of May we estimate all of the slots for our October to December season will be filled, and we are now working on sending our coaches into the communities we work with to speak to entire schools about ocean conservation.