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Meet the coach training Gaza's future Olympic swimming team Open in fullscreen

Rami Almeghari

Meet the coach training Gaza's future Olympic swimming team

A swimming coach at Namaa swimming pool in Jabaliya [Archive image: Getty]

Date of publication: 22 December, 2017

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Society: Amjad Tanteesh was unable to compete in the Olympics himself due to the ongoing siege, but his experience has spurred him further to train the next generation.
At a privately owned swimming pool in the northern Gaza Strip, Amjad Tanteesh, a 41-year-old swimming coach, is training thirty children between the ages of 10 and 18. It is his long-held dream of drawing from Gaza some highly qualified swimmers who can compete at the Olympics by the year 2024.

"Since the year 1999, when I myself won the local championship of swimming in Gaza, I had the dream of working on some capable children swimmers from Gaza, who can compete in the Olympics," Tanteesh told The New Arab. 

Speaking at the Namaa pool in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, Tanteesh talked of his hopes to one day train a future Palestinian Olympian - despite being unable to participate in the Olympics himself.

"This has been my long-time dream, and finally, I am able to hold some organised and sponsored training for local kids," he said. 

Important stops

Tanteesh's career has been interrupted several times. After the eruption of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, opportunities to train were limited. In 2004, he began to bring together dozens of children to train them how to swim, right at the Gaza seaport.

"Soon after we began training over the seaport area, off the costs of Gaza, an Israeli bombardment of the waste water pipelines in the middle of Gaza City polluted the sea water, after all waste water was pumped into the sea itself. I had to stop all my training activities in the area," Tanteesh recalled while guiding his trainees.

Before the 2008-9 Israeli war on Gaza, in which Israel destroyed several points of infrastructure, including the sole power plant for Gaza, some of Tanteesh's training offerings were taken care of by the Palestinian swimming council, an official Palestinian body.

"Some of my own trainees, who I myself trained, won a local championship in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian council for swimming was the one in charge of that championship. With the developments of events throughout the region, including the Palestinian political split and the subsequent Israeli closure and war of 2009 against Gaza, all my activities came to a halt."

From 2011 to 2014, I was able to train hundreds of children, using some small private swimming pools

Inspiration

Back in 2011, several children from northern Gaza, where Amjad lives, drowned in the sea. "In fact, despite the hard conditions of Gaza, including the economic hardships, I was prompted to start collecting children for training on swimming. This was mainly because of the deaths of five children who drowned. I felt obliged to help children to swim.

"From 2011 to 2014, I was able to train hundreds of children, using some small private swimming pools, owned by owners of coffee shops on the Gaza beachfront. By then, I used sometimes to pay for transportation for some of the kids. It was not for generating income, but rather for helping serve my own Palestinian community."

The 2014 war

Before the eruption of the last major Israeli war on Gaza, in the summer of 2014, Tanteesh was training five hundred children, from across Gaza region. Two weeks after the training session was held, the war broke out and Tanteesh's dream was again interrupted.

"Following the last war, some local NGOs began paying attention to children who were traumatised. By then, I was able to resume my training activities and contributed with a training programme of my own, to help those affected children recover mentally."

A unique idea

To make sure the training could take place smoothly and professionally, Tanteesh had an idea, which he described as unique. He managed, with the help of some local friends and neighbours, to dig a swimming pool of his own, right on Gaza's northern beach.

The pool was named Gaza's Swimming Lake.

We managed to continue training from 2015, through 2016, and I was able to train more than 500 children. Both girls and boys were able to attend our training classes right in the open, in the lake itself



"Actually, what I did was simply collecting ruins of the homes and facilities destroyed by Israel during the war on Gaza in 2014. We managed to protect the pool of 1000 square metres, three metre-depth, with bricks and debris of destroyed homes.

"We managed to continue training from 2015, through 2016, and I was able to train more than 500 children. Both girls and boys were able to attend our training classes right in the open, in the lake itself."

Training techniques

In 2016, Tanteesh's unique lake became unsuitable for training to continue.

"In fact, the pool that we dug two years ago, turned to be an improper place, as the depth of the pool itself decreased from three metres into one metre and a half, almost. So, I decided to move the training into privately owned swimming pools."

Ambitious programme for ambitious children

At the Namaa swimming pool in northern Gaza, 15-year-old Abdelrahman Tanteesh, the coach's nephew, was moving skillfully through the water.

"I can swim for three kilometres non-stop," the youngster boasted. "I learned back, butterfly and frog movements. I would love to say to all that we need your help to create some small lakes or swimming pools that are well-equipped and well-organised."

During these cold winter times, Tanteesh can only teach technique to his trainees, instead of allowing them to swim.

"Over the past periods, while I have been able to train many hundreds of children how to swim. I have been able to train them only during summer times. In winter, we need special heating equipment that can be connected with the pools themselves. These heaters require constant and high-voltage current that can not be made available around the clock in Gaza, due to prolonged power outages across the territory.

"We lack such well-equipped swimming pools in Gaza."

The current swimming training programme has enrolled 20 boys and 10 girls and is being sponsored by a German NGO, Sternenstaub.

"This is the first time that I train under direct sponsorship by an international NGO," said Tanteesh.

"The training will continue for one year and I look forward to bringing from Gaza some highly skilled swimmers, who can participate in the Olympics by the year 2020.

"Hopefully, my dream will be realised and that what I was unable to achieve during my youth, can be achieved by one of these potential Olympic swimmers."

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari

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