Saving lives and star floats: Northampton teacher shows petrified children how to swim in Caribbean

A Northampton swimming teacher showed children how to stay alive among the waves in the Carribean as part of an extraordinary two-month volunteering trip.

Thursday, 13th June 2019, 7:24 pm
Millie Dorgan shows one of the children what to do with their arms in the water. Photo: Millie Dorgan

Millie Dorgan went from teaching Northamptonshire children how to breaststroke to showing six-year-olds in St Lucia how to swim in the sea between March and April.

The 24-year-old teacher even saved a boy's life on her travels but said that seeing children previously scared of water being confident enough to play around in the sea was very gratifying.

"We were teaching in environments that they would be swimming in, which was great as they don't have access to swimming pools, there's only one on the island which is only for people with money," she said.

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Millie Dorgan shows one of the children what to do with their arms in the water. Photo: Millie Dorgan

"It was really rewarding but when you're teaching in the elements, there are elements of danger to it so I had to make sure they were all safe."

Millie travelled to St Lucia with a host of other sports coaches for two months on March 23, living like a local during her stay.

She said the island suffers from severe poverty and high crime rates, meaning there are few resources to teach children how to swim despite being surrounded by the ocean and flash flooding being commonplace.

The head teacher at the school Millie worked with selected a group of 20 children to learn how to swim.

Millie reassures one of the children in the water. Photo: Millie Dorgan

Millie said some parents were apprehensive about their child taking part as they were so scared of the water - she said even doctors advise against going swimming because of the dangers and fear.

Every day they would pick up the children from the school, drive ten minutes to the nearest beach where she would lead the lesson supported by the other volunteers.

One incident sticks in Millie's mind. During a free play session, a rogue wave sent a six-year-old boy, Jesan, head over heels, causing him to swallow a load of water and pass out in Millie's arms.

She rushed back to shore, got all of the other children out of the sea, shouted for the lifeguard and for an ambulance, and was about to start chest compressions when he spluttered back to consciousness.

Having fun in the water. Photo: Millie Dorgan

"It was terrifying," she said. "Adrenaline kicked in but afterwards it really shook me up, it was really scary, but it made me and everyone else realise how dangerous the sea can be."

By the end of the eight-week intense course, all 20 children were able to swim out of their depth, tread water and do a star float, as well as being educated on water safety and how to get out of potentially dangerous situations.

Since coming home, Millie has set her sights on her next expedition, with a volunteering trip to Dubai coming up in September. She hopes to do the same thing in Vietnam and The Bahamas too.

"I just really want to highlight how important it is to learn how to swim, whether to live in Northampton, which is almost as far as you can get from the coast, or St Lucia," she said.

At the end of each session was 15 minutes of free play with snorkels and tubes. Photo: Millie Dorgan
Some of the children in Millie's class. Photo: Millie Dorgan