This summer, my husband, a close friend and I decided to try to swim from Europe to Africa to raise $100,000 for Worldreader. Worldreader is a non-profit that eradicates illiteracy by delivering a digital library to the world’s poorest people. Our thinking was this: how can educational opportunities between two continents be so vastly different if they’re so close that we can swim there?”
I can’t imagine my life if I didn’t have access to books growing up. Watching my two daughters grow up tri-lingual, I’ve seen up close how they’ve made sense of their world through books. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know that there is a book-famine in the developing world. Books simply don’t arrive, and there are over 200 million children in Africa who will never have a book of their own!
Take a moment to think about it: books are heavy, expensive to transport and go out of date quickly. The first time I went to Africa I was blown away when I entered classrooms filled with children hungry to learn and found almost no printed material. In the corner of the classroom, 10 copies of “The History of Utah” printed in the 1950s sat collecting dust. That was the moment I knew I had to try and improve access to books.
Worldreader is riding three societal waves that make eradicating illiteracy a possibility. Books are digital, mobile phones & cellular technology are everywhere, and the price of technology is decreasing everyday. E-readers are cheap and feature phones cost around $20. Imagine a time when our children will say: “remember back when hundreds of millions of people didn’t have access to personal libraries—how weird is that!” Swimming the Strait and raising money for Worldreader gets us closer to that future.
The Gibraltar swim is one of the “Ocean’s Seven”, the open water swimming’s version of the Seven Summits. Due to the influence of strong currents which prevail in the Strait, swimmers cannot take the most direct route and have to depart from close to the Spanish fishing town of Tarifa and swim 11 miles across the currents to a rocky outcrop of Morrocco. It’s a tough swim, fewer people having succeeded than have climbed Everest. The hardest part was deciding to do it. For the next year, I logged in long hours in the pool and the ocean—overcoming my fear of marine life and the cold.
When we arrived in Tarifa, the winds were intense and we had to wait in the hotel through 5 stressful days. I kept looking out over the Strait and thought about how the huge ocean liners in the middle of the strait were no bigger than my pinky nail. On July 11th, we were called to the port and given the green light– although you can see in the video that the conditions were pretty scary.
A couple of times waves tossed me on my back. Half way through, when my thoughts were beginning to doubt if I could make it, a family of dolphins appeared and swam underneath us, almost carrying me to a better spot. Five painful hours later, the blue infinite below gave way to sand and I knew we finally made it. I can’t begin to describe the relief.
The adventure continues.
To support Worldreader & the Sea of Cortez Swim: donate.