“Adjust your goggles and look down into the water.” This summer Wednesday, under the impressive dome of the Drancy aquatic center (Seine-Saint-Denis), Alexandre, lifeguard, encourages the young Nolan, 6, to go from one end of the pool to the other by standing on the ledge. The boy had never dipped his feet in a swimming pool. In two sessions, thanks to the advice and benevolence of Alexandre, he is no longer afraid to enter the water alone. The aim of the game? That he acquires, at the end of his training, what is called “aquatic ease”, in other words the minimum skills allowing him to ensure his own safety without flotation equipment where he has not foot…
With a dozen other children aged 4 to 12, Nolan is taking part in a session of the “1, 2, 3 swim” initiative, designed and partly financed by the Paris 2024 organizing committee to prevent drowning among children. younger. “We started from an observation, comments Mélanie Duc, manager of this project at Paris 2024. Seine-Saint-Denis has only 38 swimming pools for 1.6 million inhabitants. Six out of ten sixth-grade children do not know swim in the department (1 out of 2 nationally, editor’s note).“Hence the idea of the Olympic Committee to choose this territory, located in the immediate suburbs of Paris, to launch these swimming training courses for 4-12 year olds, in the wake of the enthusiasm aroused by the next holding the Olympics.
A growing success
Launched in the summer of 2021, the first edition took place in four mobile pools installed in the municipalities of Clichy-sous-Bois, Villetaneuse, Sevran and Bagnolet. One thousand eight hundred children took advantage of the free swimming lessons offered to them. Given the success of the initiative, the organizers have replicated the project beyond the region, and during the summer of 2022, 3,600 additional young people were able to obtain an aquatic ease certificate in Paris, in Seine-Saint -Denis, in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) and Pignans (Var). This summer, for the third edition, the initiative concerned, among others, the Hauts-de-France, the Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseilles), the DOM-TOMs… In total, 38 local authorities in metropolitan France and Overseas help thousands of children to learn about water.
In Drancy, as early as June, the municipality communicated, through public displays, leaflets and publications via social networks, on these free courses planned over five days, at the rate of one hour daily. The parents of the hundreds of children who had not been able to benefit from the blue classes – organized by the National Education, they teach the little ones to swim – jumped at the chance. Rodja, mother of 10-year-old Mehmet Ali, registered her son as soon as she was informed by the town hall’s Facebook page.
After only two sessions, her boy had already realized with wonder that his body was able to float in water. “Knowing how to swim can sometimes save your life,” says his mother. Who also sees another advantage to this activity: “As we will not be going on vacation, this course offers a kind of summer leisure to Mehmet Ali. He can thus meet other children and make friends.” On the other side of the pool, Nolan and his two elders apply themselves to following the lifeguard’s instructions. With already in mind the project to go swimming and have fun in the leisure center of the region.
Continue after the Olympics
In Seine-Saint-Denis as elsewhere, for a certain number of families there is the problem of access to swimming pools, which do not exist or are too far from the neighbourhoods. There is also the question of financial resources. “That’s why we lend swimsuits and goggles,” says Georges, coordinator at the Drancy nautical stadium.
Through the bay window, Kévin follows the progress of his daughter Maëlle. He appreciates the kindness of the lifeguards and their sense of pedagogy: “They know how to pass on their knowledge in a playful way”, he says. The “1, 2, 3 swim” system should accommodate 20,000 children by the end of September. With the objective of perpetuating the system to continue to reduce inequalities in access to the practice of swimming in France, beyond the 2024 Olympics.