Women-Only Swim Class Helps Muslim Women Exercise in City Heights

your gun time to go okay each Saturday staff in the Copley YMCA in City Heights clear out the pool and locker rooms early they send their male lifeguards home and female lifeguard Nicole Velasco clocks on for a special after-hours lesson the biggest process is shutting down the rest of the YMCA the YMCA closes at three o’clock just at the same time the women arrive so we have to try and make sure that all of the men are out of the pool areas we closed the pool half an hour before the YMCA closes we close up all the doors make sure all the men are out and then open up the back so that we can have a nice flow of people out and in same time a group of about 15 East African women file through the back doors for a women-only swim class the YMCA began offering it this spring after Muslim women in a group called City Heights Hope told the directors they can’t swim in front of men Sarah Abdi leads the group we African women who are coming to swimming are Muslims and they don’t want to come to socialize with men and also when this women men cannot be viewing them even in front of each other the women stay covered up in rash guards and t-shirts some even ordered special Islamic swimsuits for the class Miriam Adam says they’re hard to find and expensive so this is the summit in suit it covers your head and your the bottom part and this is the pence it covers all of your legs like that and this is the cap that covers your head so only your face good show and your hair could be covered it is not easy to find I don’t have one but you can like find it online or like in Islamic scholars many of the women and their daughters this is the first time they’ve been in a pool kids I’ve never seen will walk in another way around the pool right away whereas everybody that come in they’re like well can we do this can we do that like can I do it already can I get in can I get in are we gonna start to lesson now so it’s a lot of fun to see that they really wanted to learn to not just get in and splash around mirror fess Ali says she hasn’t been in the water since she was a teenager in Ethiopia she’s learning all over again with her three and five-year-old daughters yeah the first time it gets kind of scary and exciting and it’s very good and still I’m in the shallow I do not go to thank him but it’s very nice the water medium the water warm and someone is helping us it is very enjoyable of course every kid likes water and I want to take grow up like like normal Li one day learn how to sweep I want to have fun they are having fun they’re very excited the classes aren’t just about cooling off and having fun they’re the first step in making exercise more accessible for Muslim women in City Heights they have diabetes high blood pressure so and exercise tell them all to go exercise you know but where are they gonna do it there are no gender separated gyms and City Heights like in their home countries and activities like walking through the park on a warm day can be especially hard because the women have to be covered from head to toe the women also say they worry about safety in those parks this it has this against and there’s a lot of activities are going on near the parks and sometimes when alone and go there people are calling their names and they’re kind of um you know pushing them ad so it’s really scary for them to be at the park researchers in City Heights say that community parks like this one in Culina del Sol are often underutilized because residents perceive them as being unsafe for refugee residents there are also cultural barriers to working out here I’m Muslim people I’m not supposed to take them close to the doctor mark it’s not clean and also in Africa dogs are kind of wild so you never see a good dog so that kind of fear always stays with us so when I see dogs or any women of East Africa dogs we tend to be scared so those two issues are really the religion and the cultural are also like affecting us to be close to the dogs the Copley wine ca plans to open a new facility in 2014 the women say they hope the new gym will give them the opportunity to practice yoga use treadmills and keep swimming and they are hopeful because you know we are part of the society so if we don’t have access to the services that other people have it’s kind of making as isolated so trying to break any barrier that we have so our daughters who are as American as anybody else will be able to swim or do whatever they want to do so there’s no limitation at all on the future

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