February 1, 2017 Neal From

Volunteering With Swimdo-Sharing the Stoke

This is a blog post written by one of our Volunteers, Dylan Sohngen.Sitting on the floor of the temple with a plumeria flower behind my ear and holy water in my hair, I hear something:“Spssppspsps…Sweemdo….sssssppppspspsps…Sweeemdo.”I look around and see one of our swim students smiling and waving at me, motioning her mom to do the same. This is my experience volunteering with Swimdo.Every morning at the Swimdo house we start our day with the signature power breakfast; fresh fruit from the market, chia seed oatmeal, and maybe some sweet coconut milk drizzled on top. It starts the day fresh and I reckon it gives my digestive system the upper hand on whatever trauma lies ahead (Balinese people like it spicy). Swim lessons start in the afternoon, so in the meantime I might catch a surf with the boys, play some backgammon, or read in the outdoor prayer tower overlooking the rice paddy fields. It’s epic, but this is the side of Bali that anyone can show up and find; good waves, relaxation and the natural beauty of Bali. It’s beautiful and mesmerizing, but my favorite part of the day happens in between. Whether it’s waiving back to our current or past Swimdo students every couple of meters in the Village or getting “gado gado” for lunch at Made’s Warung where Made already knows I struggle with the standard Bali-dose of chilis. After being a part of Swimdo over the past month and a half I feel like I’ve gone from being just another “bule”(foreigner) tourist to actually participating in the community.This feeling of making a difference, of responsible tourism, felt especially real when I sat in a temple filled with my new neighbors in their finery, overstuffed basket offerings, and rising incense smoke. Being welcomed into a community, and hearing “Swimdo” being talked about made me realize that this is bigger than just teaching swimming, this is a model of responsible voluntourism, of cultural exchange, of sharing the stoke. It’s incredibly rewarding to come to such a beautiful place that is more often than not violated by its visitors and feel that you are bringing and leaving behind something positive.Every day I use the Bahasa Indonesia that I’ve learned from Swimdo’s Indo veterans to work with dozens of kids in the water. Most of our students can’t swim at all in the beginning and many arrive at their first lesson terrified of the water. We do our thing, and a couple of lessons later, the students are feeling great, graduate our survival swimming course and walk away with a different relationship with the water. The kids have a great time and so do we, and it really goes a long way on both ends. I’ve been in Keramas village for just under two months, and every day is a little different.Yesterday, I sat on a cliff overlooking blue water and shallow reef and watched a several hundred pound dugong cruise through the shallows. The day before that, I paddled through a sea cave to surf the legendary Uluwatu left hand point break that I grew up watching in vintage Gerry Lopez surf movies. Tomorrow I’ll have 45 students at lessons, and I’ll see where the rest of the day takes me.Life is good in Bali. Life is good with Swimdo.