By Duncan Mlanjira
South African lifesaving examiner, Deon Woodley has successfully concluded what he described as the first phase of imparting lifeguard and rescue skills to local youths of Nkhoma Bay District in the drive to prevent and stop drowning along the shores of Lake Malawi.
Woodley arrived in the country on Monday, February 17 and proceeded to travel to Nkhata Bay the following on day with Lytton Mabeti, a qualified lifeguard by professional and swimming instructor at St. Andrews International High School.
The training attracted a group of 10 lifeguards, who patrol Chikhale Beach during peak holiday periods.
Woodley said he hopes to secure further funding to continue with the next phases to further assist towards having full professional lifeguard certifications.
“The Nkhata Bay lifeguards still require more basic rescue and resuscitation equipment which we hopefully might get funding for,” he said.
He added that if the candidates train hard and meet the required swimming times (400m in less than 8 minutes) by the time an examiner returns for the next phase, they can earn certification.
“In all likelihood, they should, with a few extra added technical additions, be able to meet certification. Certification phase has theory and practical internationally accredited evaluations.”
He explained that the period of breaks in between the phases would be future-funding-dependent, “however the current goal is to find program support so we can have the team qualified before the summer season.
“The participants were totally committed and very enthusiastic. A few are not too far off meeting the required swimming and rescue level.”
Alongside the training, Mabeti presented a 45 minute Lifesaving South Africa WaterSmart presentation and rescue demonstration to 85 children from the local primary schools around Chikale Beach.
Mabeti said the school learners were provided with the WaterSmart easy-to-read literature.
WaterSmart is a school water safety program which Lifesaving South Africa is executing to inculcate a culture of respecting the fact that river, lake or ocean water can be fun but it is at the same time very dangerous.
In an earlier interview, Woodley disclosed an alarming rate of deaths by drowning that is at 360,000 annually worldwide.
The expert had said most people drown because of not having been provided with lifeguards and lifesaving skills.
“The most vulnerable are toddlers, who usually drown in fish ponds, swimming pools, wells, rivers because they were not under supervision,” he had said.
“Other victims are adult males who, after consuming alcohol, want to also swim. Alcohol is playing a major part in the rate of drowning worldwide,” Woodley said.
Woodley is not a stranger to Malawi as he has been visiting in the past 10 years courtesy of the affiliation partnership that St. Andrews International High School and Malawi Aquatic Union’s Lifesaving Society has with Lifesaving South Africa in the international drive to provide excellent standards of leadership and lifeguard training.
Lifesaving South Africa’s partnership with St. Andrews International High School goes way back through its provision of training for the school’s staff and learners after every two years.
St. Andrews also has a lifesaving club, whose initial beneficiary are the staff and students, but Mabeti said it will soon be opened to the communities surrounding the International High School.
In conjunction with Mabeti and Nkhata Bay-based Alex Ndipo, Woodley trained the selected youths in rescue techniques, resuscitation skills, water safety preventives, spinal body rescue management among others.
The trainees have been provided with some rescue equipment such as torpedo buoys.
Nkhata Bay was chosen due to an increase of drowning incidents, especially during festive season, Easter holidays and other celebration holidays and also because district’s beaches are tourists destination.
Most tourists who want to swim along these beaches, which are very deep, always ask for lifeguard supervision, and thus the need to train more experts in another objective of job creation for the youths.
The project shall then be sustained by Ndipo in collaboration with Mabeti from Blantyre.
Malawi Lifesaving Society was registered in 2014 under Malawi Aquatic Union, the mother body of swimming in the country.
Lifesaving skills or equipment along Lake Malawi are almost non-existent in the local communities with just a few at some of the holiday resorts.
“At the same time, it is also some sort of sport through regular exercises the lifeguards undergo to keep their bodies fit and healthy.
“It is also a serious career from which one can get employment,” Mabeti said.
Woodley said Lifesaving South Africa, which provides an essential volunteer community service at the highest international standards for the public of the Rainbow Nation, has close to 1,000 members.
According to its website, LSA leads, supports and partners with national and international organisations committed to drowning prevention, water safety supervision, emergency response and sport.
It believes in humanitarian principles; effective governance; tolerance and respect for all; ethical conduct and behaviour; equity through diversity; environmental responsibility; evidence-based decisions; learning; friendship and camaraderie.
Lifesaving South Africa organises national competitions such as the South African Lifesaving Surf National Championships, that involves various lifesaving events, including sea, board and beach competitions.
Lifesaving officially began in South Africa around 1911 after Sir William Henry, who was at the time the Secretary for Royal Life Saving Society(RLSS) toured all member countries of the Commonwealth to establish branches of the RLSS.
The inaugural lifeguard awards in South Africa subsequently started in 1913, with the RLSS retaining control of lifesaving activities till 1961 when South Africa established the South African Life Saving Society.