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Former Willamalane Aquatics Instructor Brings Swim Skills to Haiti

In July of 2018, Leah Boysen found herself in Haiti with a group of deaf children who didn’t know how to swim. But as an American Sign Language (ASL) student with a background in swim instruction, she was uniquely qualified to handle the situation.

Leah worked with Willamalane’s aquatics team at Willamalane Park Swim Center and Splash! at Lively Park for almost two years in 2014-16. Her time with Willamalane came to an end when she graduated from high school and moved to Monmouth to begin college at Western Oregon University.

 “I have a passion for signing, and I discovered Western had a program,” Leah said. “I have an aunt who is deaf, and she never learned to sign. I think every kid should be able to communicate in some language.”

As an ASL major, Leah looked for experiential programs in which she could keep learning between her sophomore and junior year. She learned about the Haiti Deaf Academy, which strives to provide language lessons, resources and vocational training for deaf children and their families.

“Haiti Deaf Academy is amazing,” she said. “They were so welcoming and supportive. I worked with deaf kids and went into the community to share what we were doing. It turned into conversations about what deaf people are able to do, which broke down misconceptions that locals had of the deaf.”

One day, Leah and other leaders took a group of kids to a swimming pool. “Of almost 40 kids, none of them had ever seen a swimming pool before,” Leah said, “And only five roughly knew how to swim.”

That’s when her swim instruction skills from Willamalane kicked in. “I was able to quickly evaluate their swim skills,” she said. Then she and the four other members of her team taught the kids water safety skills, back floats, treading water, some strokes, and even what to do if they were to be swept out to sea. “I was in the pool for about five hours that day,” Leah said. “And I was glad that I was able to use my lifeguard skills to make sure it was a safe situation.”

Leah says that deaf kids have limited opportunities to learn to swim with an instructor who could communicate in sign language. “It was a great lesson for everyone,” Leah said. “I hope they’ll use their skills and experience to teach the younger kids how to swim in the future.”

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