Teaching refugees to swim in Greece

Ellen Kemper in her element


Ellen Kemper is a compulsive swim instructor

(as you’d readily know if you were in her lane).

In her retirement from 30 years working with

Native American Tribes, she’s spreading the joy

of swimming. Ellen joined us on our Greek

Swimming holiday in Mathraki and then

she went on to Lesbos to teach swimming to

refugees in Lesbos. Here’s her report.




SwimQuest Greece caught my attention years ago. When my best swim buddy (who lived in Greece decades prior) was finally convinced to sign up, the pandemic hit. Sigh. Luckily this year, we embarked along with a third mersister to join others from around the world on the tiny island of Mathraki. There we frolicked in the clear blue sea and dined on endless mezzes. The pod managed to sandwich the swim vacation between some mainland touring.

Prepped to the max from two weeks of daily sea swims, I ventured off to Lesbos, a much larger island, to teach swimming to refugees through the NGO Yoga and Sports with Refugees.  http://yogasportwithrefugees.org


The swim students fled Iran, Syria, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Afghanistan and more, but I was instructed not to ask. No need to stir up those memories. Each swim group is a mishmash of those afraid of the water to those who (think they) know how to swim.  But everyone improves. The women’s classes are organized chaos with 30+ children and ladies of all ages, most covered from head to foot.  My inner lifeguard was on full alert but I grinned in delight in my role as “teacher, teacher.”

A herd of goats also ran through each lesson.


I also taught private weekend lessons for the NGO www.refugeeeducationandlearning.org to gals who had moved out of the refugee camp and worked weekdays.

One was so good we swam about half a mile, round trip from the Mytilene Statue of Liberty to a beach with a shrine and cross.
That inspired a similar sojourn with three (not as skilled) male refugees and another volunteer instructor.


The NGO, Yoga and Sport With Refugees Lesbos Gym organizes 5 swim groups weekly and operates a variety of classes at its gym 6 days a week.

Volunteering there renewed my hope for the future. The gym volunteers, who are many decades younger than me, embody caring, cooperation, and competence with exuberant energy, aptitude, and humor. The staff are amazing, covering so many roles at the same time, keeping the gym operating on a shoestring budget.

Watching the swimmers continuously improve is my greatest reward. I recognize their struggles past and future. I believe that for those moments we shared they felt empowered and proud of their accomplishments


If like Ellen you fancy a swimming holiday in Greece then our Mathraki trip is the one for you! This tour is ideal for anyone looking to lose themselves in a more relaxed way of life for a week, based on a remote island off the North West coast of Corfu. Now on sale HERE.

If the swim teaching has sparked your interest and you’ve got a month to spend on a Greek island swimming to your heart’s content, contact the linked organizations to teach swimming or volunteer in the gym.




If you’d like to return to the blog homepage, click here

At SwimQuest we’re proud to embrace all forms of open water swimming. Whether you have just discovered the joy of dipping in for the first time, or are training for a huge challenge, we’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to blog for us, please email alice@swimquest.uk.com with your idea.

More inspirational posts, pictures, swimming advice and adventures to follow via our BlogFacebookTwitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter at the bottom of this page to ensure you never miss a post.