Swimming pools are for rich folks, which is why kids from Peshawar’s informal settlements beat the heat in the free entry canals around the city.
In the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, village children do the same and crash around in the rivers when the summers arrive—but because they don’t know how to swim, they die there as well.
The drowning numbers are so bad, that often the districts have to ban swimming in the holidays.
In the last three years or so, 604 adults and children have drowned. Often several children from one family are lost in the tragedies.
A few coaches decided that the only way to change this is to give poor children access to lessons. Asif Orakzai, who is the president of the KP swimming association, works with eight coaches. They offer aspiring young swimmers international-level training.
“During our search for swim talent we used to go too far-flung villages and observed the local kids who would swim in the rivers,” he told SAMAA Digital. “Then we’d encourage them to join our professional training summer camp.” This summer 130 under-age swimmers have been training at Qayyum Stadium.
The talent hunt has accomplished several things: it has channeled the energy of young kids, given them mentoring, crucial swimming lessons, and if they are lucky, launched them into the competitive sport. “We give professional training to kids who are unable to hire coaches,” adds coach Muneen Ahmad.
Every year the competition is held in two categories. In the Junior category, they have the Under-12s, Under-14s and Under-16s. In the Open category they train seniors. In 2017’s national junior swimming championship, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won 33 bronzes.
Orakzai just wishes they had heated swimming pools as the championship was in November and they need to train in the winters too.