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24 April 2014 Last updated
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Laptop charity helps children in need

One Land Cruiser, 50,000 kilometres, and 5,000 laptops. Tamin Connolly talks to Samantha Dobson about going the extra mile

By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine
1 Aug 2011 | 12:00 am
  • Tamin Connolly

    Tamin Connolly is part of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organisation that designs low-cost computers for the world's poorest children.

    Source:Silvia Baron/ANM

Tamin Connolly was in the throes of an Olympic swimming career when a freak accident led to partial paralysis. Despite being told she would never walk again, Tamin's spirit remained unbroken. Now she is once again pushing the boundaries - this time delivering education to some of the world's most underprivileged children. 

Before... "I was brought up on a farm near the Kruger National Park in South Africa. From a young age, I used to swim in the dams on our farm. When I turned six I won my first school swimming gala. By the following year, my coach Tannie Kobie insisted that I had talent and should train. Because the school was 40 minutes from home, it was arranged that I would spend two nights a week boarding with Tannie. To this day she remains a close friend.

"When I was at home my father would take me and our dogs to swim laps of the dam at 4.30am, before the cows were milked. It was cold and dark, so my father had to shine the car headlights for me to see. When I stayed at Tannie's, we would train and volunteer at charity projects in the evenings.

"By eight years old I was competing in swimming at national level. During one of the junior world events, a Malaysian coach approached my parents offering me a scholarship to train with the Malaysian national team. I was sent to board at the Penang International School just before my ninth birthday.

"In the beginning it was very hard - my parents couldn't afford to visit. But by the time I was 12, my father got a job in Indonesia and my sister Carey had started at the same school. 

It all changed when... "In 1998, when I was 16, I was training intensively for the Commonwealth Games, focusing on the 2000 Olympics selection. During training one day, a boy jumped off a diving board accidentally landing on me, breaking my back. I spent the next three weeks in a hospital traction bed in a partial coma. When I regained consciousness, doctors told me I would never walk again.

"We moved back to South Africa... during my rehabilitation, I realised I had feeling in my toes, but it took two years of frustrating and, at times, excruciating treatment before I could walk properly. By 2002, I had completely recovered - and later did a half Ironman competition to prove it - and had graduated with a teaching degree in geography and physical education. 

As a result... "I moved to Dubai three years ago to teach at the Emirates International School. I developed a love of off-roading and started to tinker with four-wheel drives. At the same time, I became the Duke of Edinburgh coordinator at school and started accompanying students on worthwhile ventures all over the world. 

Since then... "I believe that education is every child's right, no matter how poor or remote. I reached out to One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organisation that designs low-cost computers for the world's poorest children. The laptops have built-in wireless and are solar-powered to reach the most remote communities. Through relentless fundraising over the past four years I have raised Dh5.2 million - enough to buy 5,000 laptops. I'm liaising with OLPC to distribute them in 39 countries between Cape Town and Cairo - the journey across Africa will take at least a year. 

Moving on... "It's been a long road getting this far, but I feel my journey is just about to begin. Africa lies ahead of me, but my path could take me anywhere. One thing is for sure, my future will combine education with volunteering. I'm happiest when I'm giving back - especially to children." 

For details of Tamin's journey, visit www.everythingexceptthehorn.com or find the Everything Except The Horn page on Facebook.

By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine

By Samantha Dobson for Aquarius magazine