What is Freestyle Aquatics?
Freestyle Aquatics is a unique programme and the first of its kind in Qatar. The programme provides customised swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving lessons, and experiences to people that have a physical disability. The programme is open to anybody in Qatar, ages 4 and above who have a disability.
How it began
Kathleen Bates, a US citizen and expat living in Doha for the past eight years, founded Freestyle Aquatics. Kathleen has been working with the physically disabled for the past 20 years in active and outdoor sports and recreation environments.
Kathleen has been swimming all her life and scuba diving for the past 17 years. She is a certified instructor with a focus on working with the disabled and is accredited through agencies in Europe, Asia and the United States. She is the only certified scuba instructor who trains the handicapped in Qatar.
Freestyle Aquatics began operations in January 2012 as the winner of the Vodafone, World of Difference Award.
Seaking about the programme, Kathleen says,
We are very grateful to Vodafone for providing us the one year of support we needed to begin and since the award ended, we have been able to continue on and work with about 400 disabled people here in Doha. We have received a one time additional funding grant from the US Embassy in Qatar. Our programme is small but our impact is huge.’
Very similar to the cultural diversity we experience living in Doha, our students come from all over the world. We have students from Holland, Senegal, Canada, the UK, Iraq, India, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, the US and a number of locals from Qatar. The programme knows no barriers; this programme has been life changing for many people and their families. We have several students who had never been in the water in their lives, before we get in with them. There are many physical, mental and social benefits to participating in our programme.’
Jojo Musa is a long time resident of Qatar and is a former competitive swimmer. Jojo began swimming at the age of four and has been coaching professionally for the past 20 years. Jojo has been involved with Freestyle Aquatics since the beginning of the programme. Jojo is very patient and is such an amazing coach that there is a waiting list just to have a lesson with him! Jojo truly loves to teach and after a short time in the water with him, students are be on their way to either learning to swim or improving their technique.
Why swimming and scuba diving
According to World Bank Statistics, roughly 15% of the world’s population has a disability and Qatar is no different. Swimming and scuba diving are two sports that know almost no barriers and most any disability can be accommodated in the water. Lessons are organised with one student per instructor. By offering private lessons this allows trainers to completely focus on the special need of each pupil and adapt each session exactly for those needs. They have successfully worked with students who are blind, deaf, polio survivors, have muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and many with spinal cord injuries and more. ‘The water is where our students feel liberated and free and we are thrilled to empower them with their new skills,’ says Kathleen.
Empowering the differently abled
Freestyle Aquatics is directly contributing to the Qatar National Vision 2030 by creating programmes and opportunities for Qatar’s development. Their ultimate goal and dream is to turn this small programme into a full time permanent and sustainable one in Doha.
We would very much like to grow and feel that we have proven that what we are doing works and is very much needed and wanted by our Doha community. We love showing people what they can do. This programme empowers people. This programme improves the quality of life for people’s physical, mental and social health.’
We dream of having a facility where the disabled can come and get in the water, a place they can meet friends and enhance their quality of life. We would also like to have students work towards earning internationally recognised certifications and offering sessions in the sea. In addition to training students, we would like to include their family members as well. We think it’s a wonderful experience when siblings or family members can learn and experience these activities at the same time. We would also like to provide more disability awareness training for volunteers and specialised coaching training to additional part-time swimming and scuba diving coaches and trainers.’
One of our biggest challenges so far has been in securing the permanent support that the programme needs. We need a permanent home to work from; this should include a swimming pool that has both shallow and deep water, a small storage room and an office space. Freestyle Aquatics needs financial support to operate and purchase specialised equipment. We are very thankful for the support we have previously received from Vodafone and the US Embassy but are actively trying to secure additional funds to continue programme operations and become a permanent contributor to the quality of life for many residents of Qatar.’
Freestyle Aquatics operates on the afternoons of Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
They are hoping to move into a permanent location in West Bay but for now, they operate out of a private compound outdoor pool in the Al Waab area.
Get in touch
Author: Sarah Palmer
This article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section from the Marhaba Information Guide Issue No 64. Grab the latest Marhaba issue from the nearest supermarket or bookstore near you.
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Image credit: Freestyle Aquatics Facebook page