why we're swimming for obstetric fistula

By: ChaCha Team

Wellness , Athlete

We are 16 years old -- our lives are just starting -- but for other young women of the same age, their lives are all but over. 

The ChaCha Team is comprised of 8 girls from different schools who have banded together to help young girls our age who are victim to a serious and tragic childbirth injury known as obstetric fistula. This devastating condition is suffered by more than 2-million young women across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.  The word fistula medically translates to a permanent abnormal passageway between two organs in the body, or between an organ and the exterior of the body -- in other words, a hole. An obstetric fistula is a hole that is developed after too many days of obstructed labor. The pressure of the baby's head against the mother's pelvis cuts off blood supply to delicate tissues in the region, causing the baby to die and the women to constantly leak urine and feces. Sadly, these women are kicked out of their homes and forced to live a life of shame and isolation.

The most shocking part is that almost nobody in the Western World seems to know about obstetric fistula, let alone the gravity of the issue.​ You can break us this vicious cycle by taking action from our "help" section and educating yourself about the issue:

Our founder, Theodosia, started a charity "T.E.Y.Y.A - To Empower Youth with Youth Action". When she realized that this challenge could raise money for these poor, suffering girls, she made speeches at different gatherings and collected about $23'000. This was incredible and she knew that this money could already be used to save almost forty girls. However, after some time, her efforts were losing momentum. She knew she needed to do something incredible to catch people's attention which she would then be able to divert towards the charity. As a result she spread the word about her goal to swim across the Channel to raise money and awareness for obstetric fistula.

To date, three members of our team, Theodosia, Mira and Ottavia have visited hospitals in Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia

The ChaCha (Channel Challenge) Team is a group of 8 students who have successfully swum accross the English Relay in two realys of 4. We began our crossing in Dover and finish in Calais. This is a distance of 33.2 km but with the currents, we swam about 50 km. Our aim is to raise money to cure Obstetric Fistula.

Total distance covered by the team while training until now: 3,360 km
Total hours swum by the team since December: 1,344 hours

The idea for this project came after Theodosia read an article about a man named Phillipe Croizon who lost both his arms and his legs and still managed to swim across the English Channel. His inspiring story made her think, 'well if he can do it, so can I!'

A Channel relay swim is a challenge that tests endurance, determination and essentially team work. We know that this will probably be the hardest thing I have ever done, but we are motivated and ready to commit especially since we are doing it for a cause that is so close to our hearts.

Being the first female team from Switzerland and the first team of under-18 year old swimmers from Switzerland to plan to cross the Channel has definitely greatly interested the press and the public. Donations range from a few coins to thousands of dollars, but what is important to note is that every single donation counts so much, because these poor girls have nothing. One girl who heard about the Hamlin Hospital had to beg for 5 years to have enough money for her bus ticket to go there.

Sixty percent of the money raised will go to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, the largest hospital in the world that solely treats this condition, twenty percent will go to the Mercy Women’s Hospital in Ghana, where many women, who suffer from Obstetric Fistula, are waiting for the funds for their surgery. The remaining twenty percent will go to the Fistula Hospital in Zambia.

  • ChaCha Team


    We are a team of eight girls from International Schools in Switzerland and we have successfully swum across the English Channel. The ChaCha Team was split into two relays of 4, ensuring that all eight girls on the team would have the chance to cross. The first relay swam across in 12 hours and 8 minutes in water that was at 18 degrees. That relay team was composed of Anouk Emmert, Margaret Koudriaev, Ludmilla le Marié and Theodosia Catsiapis. The second relay swam across in 10 hours and 16 minutes in 19 degree water. The second relay team was composed of Ottavia Austin, Mira Browne, Josephine Brenoe and Lelia Weyrich. 12-16 hours in the water is a very short time compared to what the impact of our swim can have on these women's lives. We are the first female team from Switzerland and the first team of people under the age of 18 in Switzerland to do so. Every member of the ChaCha Team is different and those differences are what help us work together as a team.


Meet the ChaCha Team

My name is Theodosia Catsiapis and I'm sixteen years old. I take part in many clubs and activities and I also really enjoy learning and have received the academic award prize every year. Currently I am the president of the French Literature academy at my school and a member of the Shakespeare society. I am a member of MUN (Model United Nations), which is definitely helping me overcome my fear of public speaking and developed my ability to rapidly retaliate during a debate. I also love skiing and I am the team’s captain. I recently signed up for the International Award Expedition and during the Gold one, we went snow-showing through Arctic Norway with the aim of photographing the Northern Lights. It was exhausting but definitely an incredible experience. I spent nearly the whole trip pulling all of the group's supplies on the sledge as the other members found it too difficult and therefore I was rewarded with the International Award Expedition prize. Oh, and I also love and collect penguins!

My name is Ludmilla le Marié, I was born in France and I am 17 years old. I have been studying in Le Rosey since class 9. I am passionate about Argentinean Tango and I hope to one day become a professional dancer. I also love acting and multiple sports. I first started swimming when I was only just a baby, and I always loved the sea more than I liked pools. Therefore, when my friend Theodosia Catsiapis came to me with the insane idea of crossing the English Channel, I immediately said YES, with no second thought. I don't think that at the time I realized how big of a challenge I was getting myself into, but as the time passes by, I am more and more confident about us crossing it. I believe that we have now found and strong and determined team of girls that will reach France no matter what the circumstances. As for the future, I would like to go to a performing arts university in USA. And then hopefully succeed in the acting industry, dancing and of course continue with sports but taking it to a more extreme level.

My name is Josephine Brenoe. I am from Denmark and The Netherlands however August 2015 marks the beginning of my time living in Europe. Before living here, I was living in India for 4 years and earlier than that I was living in the Philippines. I have always loved to participate in sports and I love being a member of a team. The sports that I focus on primarily are football and swimming. Since I moved to Switzerland I have taken my sports activity to a whole new level. I have also done this with my poetry. I wrote a poetry book for my school’s personal project. The book was a mixture of my writing and photography. The theme for the book was world issues ranging from mental health to water pollution to poverty. On top of writing this book, I also decided to print and sell it to raise money for the Nakabunzi Basic School in Zambia, which I visited between the 23 rd to the 30 th of June 2016. At this school I taught art with two of my peers. I have always been constantly motivated to push myself and improve in the sports that I love. This is especially true for swimming. Swimming is a sport that pushes me beyond my abilities both mentally and physically. Therefore, when I was told about this Swiss Channel Challenge I was ready to dig my teeth into this incredible new activity. There was and has been no shortage of nervousness, pride, excitement and teamwork during the preparation for this challenge. From here, I can only hope that I continue experiencing this whole process to the fullest. I know that I must work my hardest to insure that I succeed. For that, I am 110% ready to dive right in.

If one word could describe me, Ottavia Austin, it would be adventurous. Whether it is hiking for 8 days, canoeing down a river, traveling to a foreign country or swimming the Channel, I throw myself head and shoulders into every adventure no matter how big or small. I am a person who likes to surpass my limits, whether that is physically or mentally. At 3 months old, I moved to Tajikistan for two years, upon which we moved to Afghanistan for another three. This immersion into a culture, so different to the one I live in today, lit a spark that has led me to seek any adventures in sight (the Channel included). One of my passions apart from swimming, is mountaineering. Last year, I went on a 7 day trek in the Gran Paradiso national park, following which I wrote a book on mountaineering for students doing the international award (Duke of Edinburgh). This year, I am going on another expedition in the Dolomites for 7 days which will have some via Ferrata. As well mountaineering, I am a dedicated competitive swimmer, who trains 5-6 times a week and has a competitions every other week. I also speak three languages (French, Spanish and English) which often comes in handy when in multicultural environments. I am involved in many community projects such as the creation of coloring books and murals for the Anouk Foundation.

 My name is Margaret Koudriaev and I'm American, Swiss, British, Brazilian and Russian -- in short, I'm international! I was born in Geneva, lived in Chicago, then London and now Geneva again. In London I was a competitive swimmer, training 7 times a week. This took a lot of my time but I was quite dedicated, and I felt that it was my sport, and that butterfly was my stroke. I guess you'd say "Like father, like daughter" as my father was a professional swimmer, 15 times world champion , and his twin brother was an Olympic swimmer! When I moved to Geneva I wanted to row and run track for my school team rather than compete in swimming. Nevertheless I still loved to swim in my own and missed it for a while. Then one day, my sports science teacher spoke to me after class and informed that there is a group of girls that are going to do something crazy, a great group of swimmers who wanted to cross the channel. I accepted before my teacher managed to finish his sentence! I saw this as an opportunity to do something incredible that not everyone can say they have done and help eradicate something that should no longer exist in today's society.

My name is Lelia Weyrich, I'm 16 years old and I am Australian and German. I have lived in Geneva the majority of my life and its proximity to both a lake and mountains has enabled me to maintain a sporty lifestyle. I thrive on being active so I spend lots of my free time playing sports. I have been swimming since a young age and I love this sport as I feel free in the water. I guess a whole new meaning is brought to the word 'free' when one is swimming across the Channel! My other interests include photographing my holiday destinations and acrobatic rock dancing. I dance twice a week with the Rock Dance Company and I love how intense the trainings are! I can't wait to perform our fabulous routine at the European Championships in Italy in June. When I heard of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relay swim the Channel, I was so excited, especially as it meant that our team could potentially be saving lives. I love the idea of being able to provide those in need with decent health care and security ; and I am thrilled to be part of such a determined group of fiery young ladies!

My name is Anouk Emmert and I am 16 years old. I am from Switzerland and have always lived here. I have been a swimmer since I was 8 and it will do 5 years that I do competition and swimming will forever be one of my passions along with listening to music. Doing competitions for so long has taught me to work hard and not to give up because in the end it will always pay back. I will use these lessons taught during this challenge. I am fully conscious that competitions and crossing the Channel are two completely different environments and conditions but that's what makes it such a beautiful challenge to me, because it will make me get out of my comfort zone (which I love) and make me push my limits, but also to raise money for a wonderful cause and to make relatives and close friends aware of Obstetric Fistula. I believe this team is truly capable achieving all our goals. I am 100% motivated for this new challenge and cold water will not change that

My name is Mira Kennedy Browne. I'm 16 years old and I attend the International School of Geneva. I am Canadian and was born there, but I moved to Switzerland 8 years ago. I have been swimming competitively for 4-5 years and I am really excited for the channel challenge this August! I am now about to begin my last year of IB and then I hope to go to a university to study science specifically Biology. My hobbies are swimming, football, skiing, reading, music and watching movies. My main extra curricular activities are swimming and football in which I have participated in many competitions. My team came second in the Swiss under 20 female football league this past year with my team Collex Bossy. I also swim regularly with Pays de Gex Nation and I qualified for the French Nationals. I also take my education very seriously and I hope to someday work in the Medical field and to help people to the best of my ability. On top of this I volunteer at a Nursing home in Geneva every Monday with the aim of brightening their morals. In our school when I graduated from the MYP system I received the Community and Service award and the award for my Personal Project. Overall I would describe myself as adventurous, studious and caring.

Advice for our peers

If we were to give advice to others who plan on taking up such a challenge it would be to never give up -- suddenly the wind will turn. As cliché as it sounds, it really is true. People will doubt your abilities and they will be the ’bumps' along the way, in fact this  will strengthen you and if you persevere you will be able to prove them all wrong. Even though this challenge is definitely physically demanding, we discovered that it requires far more mental determination than physical strength to accomplish.

YOU CAN NOT HAVE A WORTHWHILE IMPACT UNLESS YOU CHALLENGE AND QUESTION YOURSELF! Think wisely if you would be willing to continue fighting for your cause through the most difficult part of your projects. If the answer is 'no,' then find something else to pursue. ~Ottavia

GET CARRIED AWAY BY WHAT YOU DO! When I do something, I really dive into it and complete it to the best of my abilities, but since I enjoy so many things, I think I have a rather long list of hobbies. ~Theodosia

LET YOUR CAUSE GIVE YOU STRENGTH! Swimming for girls my age who suffer from obstetric fistula and have a lifetime of pain and suffering if they are not helped, gives me strength. ~Margaret

KEEP GOING, IT WILL MAKE YOU STRONGER! I think like most challenges there are times when you feel as though you aren't capable or strong enough to succeed. There were times during our training when I felt too cold, sore or tired to continue. However I did continue and it is these moments that make you stronger. ~Mira

YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO YOUR PEERS! I think that we are able to prove to our peers that they can do anything they set their mind to. By challenging ourselves in this way, we are acting as an example of how it is possible to achieve the goals you set out for yourself. ~Josephine

DO SOMETHING CATHARTIC! I love playing the piano. I think music really has cathartic qualities,  a perfect remedy for a gloomy day. ~Theodosia

TEAM IS EVERYTHING! I have learned that 'team' is key. If I would not have had the support of the other ChaCha girls during our trainings in the cold lake, I would have had no motivation. They have taught me to push through the obstacles and Margo has repeatedly reassuringly told me "One day, that's all, You can do this for that one day [the Channel crossing]. I therefore strongly advise anyone wishing to begin a project like this has a strong, supporting team. ~Lelia

WORK TOWARDS A GOAL AS A TEAM! One thing that I have learnt is that even when you are alone in your part of the journey and you are training alone and away from others; you are still very much part of your team. When you are working towards a goal with a team, then you are never truly alone and you never have to be. You can always rely on the rest of your team the way they will rely on you. There is no need to feel as though you are alone in the struggles you have when getting to your goal. Chances are that the rest of your teammates have been through the same thing. ~Josephine

CHALLENGES ARE BOTH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE PASSION FOR IT! In my opinion, one of the things that makes me carry on (when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and call it a day), is my passion for what we are doing. ~Ottavia

AN OBSCURE ISSUE DOES NOT MEAN "UNIMPORTANT!" At first, I thought Obstetric Fistula was an obscure issue, not important enough for the challenge we were undertaking. After doing some research, I realized that the fact that I had not heard of something that affects 2-million girls my age, was testimony that this had to be our cause. ~Ottavia

WHEN YOU CARE OTHERS WILL TOO! Along the journey,  when I saw people trying to support us in any way they could, I gained confidence. It made me happy. ~Josephine

SEE THE PROBLEM FOR YOURSELF! Seeing those girls in Ethiopia, not really different from me, arrive at the hospital, weak and tearful and then return home cure and full of hope, changed my life irreversibly. After three weeks, I too returned home, with a slight sunburn on my face  and a burning need to see the complete eradication of this condition through my life time. ~Theodosia

JUST BECAUSE IT'S HARD DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD GIVE UP! Without a doubt, the more difficult aspect of this project was the beginning when I had to ask people to support me and join me. When I asked my swimming coach at school what she thought of the project, she told me right away that it would be impossible, that I was crazy and that I should give up now. This made everything so much more difficult for me because my coach made me question myself so much, to the point that I almost wanted to give up. She knew how I swam better than anyone else and if she thought I couldn't do it, I thought she was probably right. But she wasn't. When I went to ask the other students at my school to join my relay team a huge number of boys joined and just one girl, but it wasn't long before all the boys gave up! Although it did please me to see that us two girls were the most resilient to the weekly trainings in the freezing lake, I knew I needed more swimmers in the team, but didn't know where to find them. Everyone at my school thought I was crazy and nobody thought we could make this apparently 'unrealistic dream' a reality. Nevertheless, I did not give up and after contacting various schools in the area, the ChaCha Team was finally formed.~Theodosia

SETTING A GOAL IS IMPORTANT! We set our fundraising goal to be able to provide 100 surgeries. Just one week before our swimming challenge and we have raised $53'500 -- enough to pay for 89 surgeries! In my opinion, that is still an amazing achievement. ~Josephine

THE MONEY WE HAVE RAISED SHOWS WE ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE! Just like when we swim to France, we're approaching the beach with every stroke! ~Margaret

REMEMBER TO THANK THOSE WHO HELPED YOU! I must thank the sports coach at Ecolint who introduced me to great swimmers and now great friends, ready like me to challenge themselves. ~Theodosia

DO NOT LOSE HOPE! You can achieve anything that you set your heart on as long as you are willing to persist throughout all of the low points. This persistence is made easier when you have a team behind you. ~Josephine

LEVERAGE EVERY ASSET YOU HAVE! So far our biggest problem has been social media. Because we're all students, it's been hard to maintain our website and use social media accounts up to date. ~Margaret

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