Development swimming programme


Wahoo has been teaching previously disadvantaged children to swim for free for two and a half years. We initiated this development program on the strength of a vague instinct that it was the right thing to do. The experience so far has been enriching, and has taught us why it is the right thing to do.

Swimming is a life skill

This is true in both senses of the word: Swimming is just like riding a bicycle in that, once you have learned how, you will remember for the rest of your life. Swimming can also, quite literally, save your life. The drowning statistics are a whole lot worse than we think they are. We tend to suppress the horror stories because we don’t like to talk about tragedies that we should really have prevented.

Learning to swim is a great confidence builder

For children who grow up in families who cannot swim and do not have access to swimming pools, swimming is an unknown and unfamiliar concept, and therefore something to be feared. Many of our development swimmers need to be introduced to water by putting their faces in a bucketful, while keeping both feet firmly planted on good old terra firma. Confronting and overcoming such a deep fear at age six or so can build the confidence to tackle just about anything in life.

Learning to swim is nurturing and intimate

Our teaching methods involve some hands-on contact from the teachers. Pupils are held and supported in the water while they learn the basics. The response from the AIDS orphans has been humbling. It is painfully clear that most of these children have not been held or supported to any meaningful extent and that society treats them as untouchable. A little love goes a long way.


Our society is learning that true empowerment needs to be broad-based, and to address basic needs. We now have over 400 children in our development program. Our children come from Halfway House School, Vuleka Schools, Refilwe, Blair Atholl, Leap school and the Village Safe Haven. We still have the capacity to teach some more inside the Wahoo Aquatic Centre, but there will always be a physical limit imposed by the size of our pools and our building. We therefore also teach teachers, so that they can take their skills into the municipal pools in the communities and reach more children than we can fit into Wahoo. We can thus broaden the base of our program, and we believe that we are addressing a basic need in a truly empowering way.


The pursuit of excellence in swimming does have elitist characteristics. The dedication and focus needed to excel in this highly competitive sport can become blinkers that shut out the plight of those who have a completely unequal opportunity to give it a go. Wahoo set out to prove that it is not necessary to go to the USA to get access to a world-class facility, so we do pursue excellence at the highest level, and thus we need the development program to keep our balance, and to prevent us from going down an isolated, exclusive and elitist pathway. South Africa is a good place to get the two extremes  to co-exist constructively under the same roof.


The way to discover talent is by getting a large number of children into the water at an early age. Real talent is easy to spot because it shines out like a lighthouse. We are not quite sure what to do with the potential stars that we see, but we know that we are spotting some real gems. All we need to do is to plant these seeds,  and in time we will be able to show that any disadvantage can be overcome.

If you would like to make a contribution please contact Phumi - 0118075118