Portuguese to swim across English Channel for Dhaka slum children

Dubai resident takes on her toughest challenge yet to help 172 children graduate high school

Image Credit: Supplied
Maria Conceicao with children. The former Emirates Airlines flight attended was moved when she first visited Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, that she vowed to make a change.
Gulf News

Dubai: A Dubai-based humanitarian aims to swim 32 kilometres in a desperate effort to secure the future of 172 children in the slums of Bangladesh.

Portuguese Maria Conceicao, founder of the Maria Cristina Foundation, which helps underprivileged children in Bangladesh, announced she is ready to take on her toughest challenge yet, swimming the English Channel on August 27. With the swim, Conceicao hopes to raise £140,000, which would secure the future of the 172 Schoolchildren.

Conceicao passed a gruelling six-hour swim in 15 degree Celsius open water, to qualify for the challenge, which can potentially save her foundation.

“The Foundation has been sinking for a while and I am desperate to make sure all the 172 children graduate from high school and have a chance to break the cycle of poverty they were born into,” she said.

To complete what is considered one of the hardest swimming challenges in the world, Conceicao has been training in Jersey, the UK for the past two months. The swim will take place in 12-15C water, without a wetsuit and can take up to 27 hours or more.

“I am not an athlete. I learnt to swim last year, but as a mother to these children, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.”

Risk of hypothermia, jellyfish stings and fighting with the currents are all factors Conceicao will have to deal with during the challenge.

“Getting used to the cold water has been the hardest part. I have lived in Dubai for so long and have never had to stay in such cold water for hours.”

The swim will test Conceicao’s mental and physical limits, and could lead to life-threatening injuries.

“My swim is not difficult compared to the hardships my children in Dhaka face daily. I am thankful to Kevin Millerick and Tobias Frenz for planting the thought of a channel swim in my head and I hope with all my heart that it will yield the results we need to keep the foundation going,” she said.

The former Emirates Airlines flight attendant was moved when she first visited Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, som much so that she vowed to make a change. She has been raising funds and awareness of the issues in the slum, and has in the process become the first Portuguese woman to summit the Everest. She is also the holder of six Guinness World Records and the winner of various international awards.

Her foundation (Maria Cristina Foundation) is a registered charity in the UK, the USA and Portugal and was established 11 years ago with an aim to break the cycle of poverty in the slums of Bangladesh through good quality education. Over 600 children and adults have attended school and been given ethical employment in the Middle East thanks to the charity.

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