Grateful Swimmers Honour STA Founder of Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project’s 10th Post-Tsunami Anniversary

Pauline Wijesinghe, the Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project’s most senior STA swimming teacher, organized a 10th Post-Tsunami Anniversary celebration to honor the Project’s founder, Christina Fonfe.

It seems hardly possible that a decade has gone by since Christina Fonfe was totally moved by television images of the 2004 Tsunami to ‘do something’ and leave her family of 36 years as a ‘military wife’ and her successful, prestigious, swimming school in England behind in order to give relief to tsunami-surviving parents in refugee camps by teaching their children to swim. It was there that she discovered the mothers bringing the children could not swim either and that 80% of those who drowned in the tsunami were women and children. And so the Women’s Swimming Project was born.

This February 2005 flashback photograph defines the cultural leap from sari to swimsuit at the outset of the project ten years ago.
STA honours Christina’s very first anniversary in the December 2005 issue of the Swim & Save magazine.

Christina’s Free Lessons program of ‘Float-and-Breathe First’ is based on initial one-to-one instruction, with the teacher in the water, followed by teaching effortless, streamlined gliding and breathing synchronized with stroke. Very early on, Christina extended the program to include teenage girls on the grounds that they are tomorrow’s mothers. Those with the most aptitude are trained, first as student swimming teachers, and then as internationally-qualified swimming teachers to assist in the Project, while other Project graduates have carved out new careers abroad to support themselves by teaching swimming in Australia and in Abu Dhabi.

Pauline Wijesinghe, in the red shirt, kneeling, shares a joke with the project’s front row STA teachers.

The Project is an enthusiastic corresponding member of the International Federation of Swimming Teachers Associations, which supports the Project by waiving STA swimming teacher course fees. Locally, the Project is sponsored by the Sri Lanka Aquatic Sport Union and the Ministry of Sport. Training material comes from Total Immersion thanks to its founder Terry Laughlin. And so, with all this help, the Project has achieved ten uninterrupted years of teaching four and a half thousand women and teenage girls to swim.

The celebration took place in the village of Ahangama, around a portable 12 metre 60,0000 liter fabric pool donated by the British High Commission in Colombo, which enables women and girls to learn to swim in complete privacy in safe, clean water in a secure environment. The afternoon began with street procession of past and present swimmers and teachers behind their ‘We Can Swim! Can You?’ banner, led by a troupe of traditionally dressed Kandyan dancers and drummers.

Women’s Swimming Project swimmers and STA teachers proudly take the project banner on a street procession to proclaim that they ‘Can Swim’.

After appropriate speeches, Christina was invited to cut a celebratory swimming pool cake decorated with Total Immersion swimmers. As Chris cannot eat wheat-based food, she was then presented with her own personal, gluten-free cake decorated with a red rose, in the center of which stood the swimmers’ gift: a golden ring set with a tear-drop sapphire. The ring represents the circle of swimmers she has taught and the sapphire represents Sri Lanka and its surrounding deep blue waters, in which the women can, of course, now swim in.

Christina receives a golden sapphire ring atop a personalised cake in recognition of her decade of devotion to drowning prevention and teaching swimming in Sri Lanka.

The day ended with the women and teenage girls having fun in the new swimming pool and showing off their swimming skills made possible by Christina’s Project. The highlight of the day was to battle against the installed Endless Pools’ ‘Fastlane’ swim-current generator, to show their unbelieving and envious husbands and sons that they truly Can Swim.

To the delight and enthusiastic applause of her swimming teacher colleagues, Dinusha de Silva, the project’s very first STA Student Swimming Teacher and language translator at the age of 14, is still now the only swimmer present who can best the full, furious power of the Fastlane swim current generator.

To close, a special thank you goes to our right hand person and STA teacher, Pauline, for organizing the wonderful celebration.


Join Our Mailing List

Stay up-to-date with the latest STA and leisure industry news by subscribing to our mailing list!


Are you looking for a job in leisure or have a vacancy you want to advertise for FREE?