In our work, we have witnessed numerous times, that there is no limit to what a child can do if it has the right support. The same is with little Aleksandra Popov from Novi Sad, Serbia. Thanks to the support of The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation and the Sports Association Halivik, she became a talented swimmer training for a water safety educator, despite her obstacles caused by autism.
A great amount of research has shown that swimming and spending quality time in the water, can significantly benefit children with autism. It can help them improve their speech, coordination, social skills, self-esteem, and cognitive processing.
Nevertheless, no one could ever believe how much time in the water would help little Aleksandra.
Aleksandra Popov from Novi Sad, a kind, warm-hearted and brave girl, beat some of the autism symptoms she had been suffering from until the age of 7 with the help of water sports. The dedication of her swim coach Mr. Igor Bežanović, helped Aleksandra turn from a child of 7 years old with special disabilities into a self-aware and eager-to-learn-teenager who now helps other children with special disabilities in Mr. Bežanović’s sports center Halivik.
In time, with the help of her parents, Aleksandra has also become a skillful water skier and she sometimes competes in triathlon competitions for children and teenagers. Swimming has positively impacted her other skills as well. She has drastically improved her communication skills and switched from being non-verbal to speaking English and French besides her mother tongue.
In her mind, she pushed all the autism challenges away and suddenly had a whole new dream – to water ski the English Channel when she is older.
But, the most astonishing effect of her tremendous turn, is her ability to teach other children to swim and feel safe in the water. Under Igor’s supervision, Aleksandra helps at the Sports Association Halivik – the only swimming club in the region that helps children with special abilities. Halivik manages swimming activities and water safety training, as well as general sports activities. It focuses on training non-swimmers aged 3 to 7 and holds a vision of educating all individuals, including those with disabilities which can be overcome with determination and with the proper teaching style. And the inspiration behind it was Aleksandra herself.
Amazed by Aleksandra’s story, our long-time project partners, the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, decided to help her further develop her water safety skills. Since 2012, the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation has been on a mission to raise public awareness about water safety, teach children preventive measures and teach them to swim.
Thanks to their support, every year during our Friendship Games camp, many children from disadvantaged areas in Serbia get their first swimming and water safety lessons. The majority of them have never been to the pool before, so such an educative experience is very important for their further growth.
The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation partnered with the Sports Association Halivik, and together they started the “Stay Safe” project, to train Aleksandra Popov to become a water safety educator. At the age of 14, Aleksandra has developed sufficient communication skills to envisage spreading her knowledge of water safety. Additionally, she will participate in the organization of local sports events intended on raising awareness of drowning prevention.
We can’t wait to share with you Aleksandra’s impressions when she finishes her training. The “žStay Safe” project will help her go beyond her boundaries to become a water safety peer educator and the first young swimmer in the country to encourage the trend of water safety learning. Hopefully, her story will open even more such possibilities and inspire others to give their best effort to overcome any obstacles that stop them from making their dreams come true.