By Cathy Cronje
When I first heard about the Future Leaders in Lifesaving Training that the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) was offering in Zanzibar this past September, I jumped with excitement. I had been to Zanzibar many years before and remembered how my time there first sparked my desire to work with the people in Africa.
It was my colleague Narciso’s (also known as Big Tomato) first time on a plane which was rather exciting. After four take offs, four landings and an hour bus ride later, we arrived at our home for the next two weeks, the Smiles Beach Hotel in Nunqwi, which is a small fishing village on the far north side of Zanzibar. The view that greeted us was breathtaking. The soft white sand felt like clay as it squished between my toes. The colour of the ocean matched the sky. At dusk the beaches were buzzing with acrobatic Zanzibarians, doing somersaults and back-flips, and playing volleyball and football along the beachfront. Silhouettes of wooden fishing boats contrasted against the fiery sunsets as the sky turned black and wore a scarf of diamonds at night. I soon decided that the local people from Zanzibar are the friendliest in the world. Every person you walk past greets you with “karibu, you are welcome in my country” and “Hakuna matata.” I definitely had “no worries” here.
Dinner time was a buzz of meetings and greetings as we were introduced to candidates from 14 countries across Africa, which included Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. Our team of hosts from the RNLI hailed from various countries around the UK.
The two weeks were a mishmash of informative lectures and practical exercises, including CPR and first aid. The course was designed to run with 3 main streams:
– Organisational leadership
– Aquatic survival
– Beach Lifeguard Development program
One of the topics we covered was how to break the drowning chain. The first 3 links in the chain deal with prevention and how to avoid getting into a dangerous situation by increasing awareness through education, limiting access to hazardous areas and ensuring there is adequate supervision when around water. This is something I feel I could have paid more attention to over my years as a swimming teacher. Sure, teaching someone to swim is the ultimate goal, but as an individual or small team, one can only teach so many children to actually swim. By educating a larger number of people about the dangers involved with water, how to prevent getting into a dangerous situation and what to do in an emergency, more lives can be saved.
All kitted out in our new RNLI rash vests, red hats and looking like professional life-guards, the team spent the second day on the beach and in the water being assessed on our swimming ability and learning various rescue techniques. I especially enjoyed learning different ways to carry a body much heavier than mine.
One of my favourite parts of the training was presenting a drowning and rescue scenario class to children at the Panje School. These children only spoke Swahili, so the presentation had to be translated by one of our group members, while at the same time we had to be animated so the children could visually understand what we were trying to teach. This was very effective. I really think we got the message across in a fun and entertaining way.
Another aspect of the program that I really loved was when we taught a group of children from the Panje Project to swim. This is a similar program to what we do with our Nemos Pequenos kids in Tofo. The RNLI have developed a remarkably simple step-by-step guide so children master the basic swimming skills in 12 lessons.
Due to the Muslim custom in the country, girls were kitted out in the cutest yellow swim suits and hoods to cover their bodies, specially made by the RNLI.
They also face some of the same challenges as we do. Working around the tides is one of the things I have had to take into consideration here in Mozambique. On Bazaruto Island for example, when the tide is low there is simply no water to teach in. In Nungwi, swimming lessons could only take place on the high tide, as during low tide the ocean floor is covered in sea urchins, which can give a nasty sting.
It was a special treat to have Kim from the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation spend a few days with us to see the training. The foundation is a major sponsor of the program and many other similar projects in Africa.
It wasn’t all work and no play. We had a stunning visit to Stone Town where a guide led us through the narrow streets lined with shops and stalls selling all sorts of brightly coloured items and art works, and of course the spices that Zanzibar is so renowned for, as well as the massive beautifully carved wooden doors with their gold trimmings.
On our final day the RNLI crew had kept a surprise up their sleeves. We were told to walk down the beach. One of the local Masai was walking along, when I noticed his leg had a massive wound on it. I got quite a fright. Upon closer inspection it was a superb make-up job, and then it hit me, this was a scenario that had been set up for us to practice all the rescue skills we had learned over the course. On the water a boat carrying RNLI members was sinking (this hadn’t been part of the plan but added to the drama in a most entertaining way). The whole team sprang into action. The lifesaving team ran into the water and started the rescues and resuscitations. The aquatic survival team was responsible for directing the operation and getting victims to the First Aid tent for treatment. There was a lot of fake blood involved to make it very realistic. The organizational leadership team interviewed various members of the rescue teams to compile press releases and reports on the incident. It was a really fun and informative exercise, helping to show how chaotic a situation like that can be, and how you need to stay calm, remember what you’ve learned and keep your head about you.
This training has been invaluable. Back in Tofo, team Nemos Pequenos is now including this line of education into their curriculum, alongside the swimming lessons and ocean guardian education sessions. We also incorporated this into the lessons on our recent trip to beautiful Pomene, where we started a new program. We also aim to take these valuable water safety lessons to various communities including parents, fishermen and people working near water in general.
“Asante sana” to the RNLI for hosting a brilliant program. Since I left Zanzibar I have been following the work the candidates have been doing via facebook group. And wow, it just goes to show how much of a difference this training is making all over Africa. This is testament to the RNLI for a genius concept and excellent training. It is evident that investing in education is key to success. Nemos Pequenos plans to invest in people who will pass this knowledge on and in doing so, help reduce the unnecessary loss of life through drowning.