Learning to swim to brave the deadly Rio Grande

STORY: Beaten down by the lack of work in Nicaragua, Martha Martinez plans to migrate to the U.S.

But before she sets off, she’s taking swim lessons – in anticipation of the dangerous crossing of the Rio Grande at the U.S. border.

“I found out on Facebook and it said it was free, so I decided to come, first because I don't know how to swim, second due to my lack of financial resources and third because I'm going to travel and also due to the fear that in the Rio Bravo many people have died, more women, very young.”

Earlier this year, a Venezuelan girl died while trying to ford the river.

Martha is one of the dozens of would-be migrants who have signed up for free swimming instruction in the city of Esteli, with veteran swimmer Mario Orozco.

“We began this initiative after realizing that various friends of ours had died trying to cross the Rio Bravo and it was very moving and being a professional swimmer with 20 years of experience, and I knew the techniques in open waters, I decided to take a day free to give free lessons and swimming techniques to avoid all these tragedies.”

Another student is Eddy Guzman who says he hopes to reach the U.S. to earn enough money to send back and support his aging parents.

He knows that the Rio Grande is only one of many dangerous points along the migration trail.

Some migrants are victims of extortion or kidnapping by organized crime groups operating in Mexico, while others who seek to avoid the river crossing must brave the expansive Sonoran desert. Still, the classes offer him some comfort.

“…with these swimming lessons, you lose fear, you are no longer afraid of water because it's true the river is wide, but one part is dry, then the width is not such a big distance, and once you know the techniques, I think you can cross to the other side."

On the long journey from Nicaragua to employment in the U.S., Orozco hopes the techniques he is teaching will at least allow his students to survive during that crucial moment.

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