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Help a Star Foundation Organizational History

Help a Star Foundation

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed drowning as the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide with the death due to drowning highest among children from ages 1 to 4 years old. In addition, males are more likely to be near bodies of water, thus, exposed to the danger of drowning at higher rates than females. Males often swim alone, consume alcohol before swimming and use watercraft at higher rates, again, often alone with or without alcohol use involved.

In November 2016, siblings Tariq and Sushmita “Xiomara” Getrouw, world-class swimmers from Suriname, learned about the high drowning rates around the world while training for competition. The experience of training for the Olympics and growing up in a third world nation made the need for assistance to reduce this danger more palpable to them. They knew that countries like theirs account for over 90% of unintentional drowning deaths and that children are often left unsupervised to become victims of this danger.

While researching a location to make maximum impact the Getrouws learned that Lesotho had never had a program to reduce drownings and as a result had an extremely high rate of accidental drownings among its children Subsequently, they booked a trip across the world to provide support. After arriving in Lesotho, in southern Africa, they presented the very first Swim for Life International (SFLI) Swim Camp.

The Getrouws expected to help around 30 children in a one-week trip. Although they were initially overwhelmed when over 100 kids arrived on site, they were able to create a successful experience for all these children. By 2017, the news of the swim camp in Lesotho had spread. When Swim for Life International returned with plans to provide support for100 children, there were 200 students lined up to attend. Once again, Tariq and Xiomara successfully taught every child at the camp to swim and provided them food and t-shirts at no cost to the participants.

If anything, these two experiences taught them that they were going to need a formal organizational structure to be able to work with numbers of children that would increase as they returned to present the swim camps. Also, increased funding would be needed to support their efforts. The Getrouws made the decision to create a formal organization with the ability to design, plan and execute yearly missions to Africa with the goal of reducing the terrible number of deaths due to drownings among young people. They knew this organization would need expertise – administration, development, logistics and supply, media and publicity, information technology, as well as having the latest water safety techniques at hand.

To become a world class non-governmental organization that is successful in its mission, planning and networking are keys to that success. Those major roles are capably filled by the team that Tariq and Xiomara put together in 2018.The administrative goals are assigned to Rob Van Maanen, a Dutch businessman, who has implemented similar sports-based programs in South Africa. His mentorship and experience with developing soccer-based initiatives has been invaluable in Swim For Life International's (SFLI) continued development and expansion.

Edwin Vermetten, another valued team member, is a world-renowned disabled veteran and athlete. Despite his daily challenges, Vermetten has not let a wheelchair become an obstacle and he has pushed himself to compete athletically at the highest levels, leading to meetings with Prince Harry, President George W. Bush Jr., and Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte.  Vermetten’s inspirational life is a gift to Swim For Life International (SFLI), particularly because he has experience working with disabled children.

Recently joining the NGO on the USA side is Rob Bernstein. He has extensive knowledge as an educator, journalist, photographer, writer & editor. He is an NGO officer and board member with several African and Caribbean based NGO's. 

Peter Troon of the Netherlands has supported Swim For Life International (SFLI) since the beginning and now enthusiastically joins the organization's planning team. A computer/ website engineer with over 20 years of experience, Troon is tasked to manage the organization’s website, as well as develop and implement a computer education curriculum to utilized by the organization in a variety of approaches. This technology education will prove to be an especially important part of the NGO's goals for success.

Dakota Lee Getrouw came on board with Swim For Life International (SFLI) after marrying Tariq Getrouw in 2018. Dakota is a novelist, inspirational speaker, animal communicator and has experience working with children in the foster care system in the United States. Her previous trip to southern Africa has motivated Dakota to strongly support SFLI in uplifting the communities there

The best lessons are often learned under the most challenging of circumstances. The global pandemic that began its terrible and inexorable journey across our planet in late 2019 led to a pause in NGO activity worldwide. Swim For Life International (SFLI) was planning for its third mission in late 2020 as well as securing legal guidance to become a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit in the United States. Likewise, we were exploring options for nonprofit status in Europe. All these plans were put on indefinite hold in March 2020. We began a series of internal discussions and decided to reorganize our young and aspiring organization. 

We realized that both the needs of the world’s children extend far beyond Lesotho as well as far beyond accidental drownings. While we knew that our core mission would be, for the foreseeable future, to teach “drown proofing” methodologies and strategies we also knew that education for children leading to job and career training would become our long-term goals. From these internal discussions the decision was made in August 2020 to re-brand the organization to Help A Star (HAS). This re-branding included the maintaining Swim For Life International (SFLI) in its preeminent role while adding and developing two additional initiatives – “Horse Power” and “Job Realization” soon. As a wonderful piece of news to look towards the future, Help A Star (HAS), officially The Help a Star Foundation, was officially named a registered foundation in the Netherlands in early February 2021.

As we push forward through what seems a never-ending period of world-wide despair because of CoVid-19 we want everyone to know, especially the children of Lesotho, that we will be back stronger and better prepared to see that you are able to lead healthy and successful lives. 

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