With summer now in full swing, San Diegans are heading to beaches and pools to cool off and get exercise.But for East-African women in City Heights, taking a dip isn’t so easy.Many of them are Muslim and can’t swim in co-ed pools. Megan Burks of our media partner, Speak City Heights, tells us how some residents and their local YMCA are getting Muslim women in the water and active this summer.
Many of them are Muslim and can’t swim in co-ed pools - but that’s changing.
Each Saturday, staff at the Copley YMCA in City Heights begin clearing out the pool and locker rooms early.
They send their male lifeguards home and a female lifeguard and swim instructor clock on for a special after-hours lesson.
About 15 East African women and girls then file through the back doors for a women-only swim class.
The YMCA began offering it this spring after moms and daughters in a group called City Heights Hope told the directors they can’t swim in front of men because they’re Muslim. “So it’s a lot of fun to see that they really wanted to learn, too, not just get in and splash around.” Birefes Ali said she hasn’t been in the water since she was a teenager in Ethiopia.
“We came here and I was just looking at the water and I was like, ‘Wow, I wish one day we could come and swim here,’” said Miriam Adam, 14. She’s learning all over again with her 3- and 5-year-old daughters.
Adam, whose parents emigrated from Eritrea, said she and the other group members initially asked the YMCA to include women-only services at its new facility, which isn’t scheduled to open until 2014. “The first time it was kind of scary and exciting,” Ali said during her fourth class. I’m not going to the deep area.” Ali said the best part is spending time with her daughters. They’re very excited.” But the classes aren’t just about cooling off and having fun.
But the directors said they could start swim classes as quickly as the women could sign up. For many of the women and girls, this is the first opportunity they’ve had to learn how to swim. “Of course, every kid likes water and I wanted them to grow up like normal kids and learn how to swim,” Ali said over shrieking and splashing kids. They’re the first step in making exercise more accessible for Muslim women in City Heights.
The young girls are outfitted with arm floaties and taught to blow bubbles, while their older sisters and moms grasp Styrofoam barbells and cling to the walls to practice kicking. “They have diabetes, high blood pressure, and doctors are telling them all the time, ‘Go exercise,’” said Sahra Abdi, director of United Women of East Africa. ” Modesty required by their faith keep Muslim women from just hopping on the treadmill at their local gym.
“Kids I’ve never seen will walk in and know their way around the pool right away, whereas everybody that comes in will be like, ‘Can we do this? And alternatives like walking through the park on a warm day can be hard because the women must be covered from head to toes.
The women also say they worry about safety while they’re walking.