In Nicaragua, would-be migrants learn to swim to brave deadly Rio Grande

·2-min read

ESTELI, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Beaten down by the lack of work in Nicaragua, Martha Martinez plans to migrate to the United States. But before she sets off, she's learning to swim, in anticipation of the dangerous crossing of the Rio Grande River at the U.S. border.

Martinez is one of dozens of would-be Nicaraguan migrants who have signed up for free swimming instruction before they leave, hoping the lessons will protect them during the last leg of the journey, when they traverse the river that separates the United States from Mexico.

"So many people, women and children, have died in the Rio Grande," said Martinez, who said she learned of the classes on Facebook. "I decided to come because I don't know how to swim."

Accidents are not uncommon in the Rio Grande's fast-moving waters. This year, a Venezuelan girl died while trying to ford the river.

The idea for the classes was born out of such tragedy.

"We began this initiative after realizing that various friends of ours had died trying to cross," said Mario Orozco, one of the swim instructors.

"This river has many strong counter-currents, so I'm teaching the techniques so they can survive," he added.

Another one of his students, Eddy Guzman, said he hopes to reach the United States to earn money to send back to support his aging parents.

He knows 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 in Mexico, while others who seek to avoid the river crossing must brave the expansive Sonoran desert.

Still, for Guzman, the swimming classes offer him some comfort.

"Already I've lost my fear of the water," he said. "And once I learn the techniques, I think I could make it to the other side."

(Reporting by Jasser Leiva in Esteli, Nicaragua. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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