Learning to Swim

by Olivia Santiago
June 28, 2013

Olivia Santiago '16 is a Royce Fellow working on developmental swim programs in island nations.

My name is Olivia Santiago and I am a rising sophomore on the Brown Women’s Water Polo team. For my Royce Sport and Society Fellowship, I have been working on developmental swim programs in island nations, as well as introducing water polo to Trinidad and Tobago.

I was inspired to do a project like this when I traveled to Haiti in 2012, and I realized all my Haitian friends did not know how to swim despite the fact Haiti is an island nation in the Caribbean. Surprisingly, a lot of children in developing island nations do not know how to swim due to a lack of community pools, resources, qualified coaching staff, etc. I am privileged to have been raised in California, where being in a pool is not only a preferred past-time, it is a way of life for me. I hope to extend the same luxury of knowing how to swim at an early age to the children of island nations, like Haiti and Trinidad, where accidental drowning is a major cause of death in small children. As school is still in session here in Trinidad, I have been working with a local community pool teaching underprivileged schoolchildren life-saving swimming skills during the day, training with the Trinidad National Water Polo Team during the evenings, and hanging out with my host family in my spare time.

Once school is out of session, I will move up to Tobago and work for the Ministry of Sport of Trinidad and Tobago. The Ministry of Sport runs developmental programs for underprivileged children on the island to teach beginning swimmers life-saving skills as well as encourage them to keep swimming and further develop the sport. The Ministry of Sport’s program is free for all children, running all day and supplying everything – coaches, venues, equipment, and food.  Last year, water polo was introduced for the first times in the program. This is where my main job lies – introducing the children of this rising island nation to the sport of water polo and encouraging the program to grow.

Now that I’ve been here for a week, here are a few things every foreigner should know about Trinidad and Tobago:

Like the United States, Trinidad and Tobago are two separate states unified under one island nation. Most live on the island of Trinidad (population about 1 million) while Tobago is the vacation island with the pristine white beaches. To “lime” means to hang out, have a party, enjoy yourself. It can be used as a noun and a verb.  In context: Who did you lime with yesterday? Do you know of any limes today? Trinidadians LOVE their national holidays. They have 16 national holidays, and many other unofficial holidays. On Labour Day (another national holiday), my host family and I went kayaking at the beach. It was a clear day so I was able to see Venezuela!

Thank you to everyone who made this amazing opportunity possible, I love this country and can’t wait to read more about other Royce fellows later this summer.