WaterWise article translated from Sea Rescue magazine Summer 2016
WaterWise in Mauritius
The need to prevent drowning and teach children water safety skills, and some strategic planning finally flowed together in a unique development: bringing WaterWise to Mauritius! Eoudia Erasmus tells us more.
Viraj Ramharai, the president of Surf Life Saving Mauritius, approached the NSRI to train a group of volunteers in Mauritius as WaterWise instructors. With the help of Peter Bacon, plans were put in place and the number of new WaterWise instructors has increased dramatically. The training took place at the youth centre of Tamarin in the west of Mauritius, an area where the local residents are known to regularly swim, fish and enjoy the water. Viraj launched the programme to promote awareness among children and grown-ups alike to be more water savvy and safety conscious in order to limit the incidence of drowning.
Three groups of volunteers, including swimming coaches, lifesavers, parents and junior lifesavers, were trained successfully over a period of two weeks. Of course the new instructors also had the opportunity to put the theory into practice by presenting workshops at schools and a swimming club in Port Louis. To convey the message of water safety to kids was a totally new experience for many of them but they soon realised the desperate need for the WaterWise training. During the two weeks, approximately 45 new volunteers were trained as WaterWise instructors, and 29 workshops were presented that were attended by more than 650 children.The reception WaterWise received at the schools was unforgettable. It was a first for Mauritius. The learners were like sponges wanting to absorb information – you could see how their eyes widened; and even the questions and positive feedback from their teachers were touching and amazing. Everyone was truly grateful for this new programme. It is clear that drowning and near drowning are common occurrences on the island. In most cases it’s due to a lack of knowledge about how to respond in an emergency. ‘Kids run away and don’t want to get involved,’ was the immediate answer from one teacher. Some of the youngsters also mentioned that there are indeed life jackets on every boat, but no one uses them! What’s more, they often tend to swim without adult supervision and do not realise the dangers of the ocean.
Visits to the Minister of Public Service Commission, Mr Alain Wong, and to the office of the Ministry of Youth and Sport were rare privileges. It is heartwarming to know that WaterWise enjoys their full support. It is also thanks to the support and assistance of youth worker Deepa Boodhoo and her colleagues that WaterWise will be promoted at several youth centres, offering the children and young people of Mauritius the opportunity to learn about water safety. In addition, plans are under way for the presentation of a WaterWise holiday programme at Flic en Flac, a beach that is popular among tourists and local residents.
During my visit to Mauritius four people drowned when a small boat capsized on the east coast of the island. There were no life jackets. A few days later another report appeared in the newspaper: ‘Boat capsizes; fortunately the casualties were brought to safety’. It is incidents like these that make us all – and certainly these islanders, too – realise the importance of the WaterWise project.
However, there was never a dull moment: aside from the training provided to the more-than-enthusiastic and willing new instructors, the schools and swimming spots that were visited, the excitement over WaterWise T-shirts sponsored by Mr Bacon, and kids that learnt and repeated the WaterWise song with gusto, I was also spoilt with a surprise goodbye party. Delicious food, sega dancing and the spontaneity of the children who wanted to teach me their language won a special place in my heart. A certificate presentation ceremony after the conclusion of the training also generated much excitement. Special guests in attendance included the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the President- and Police-superintendent of Tamarin, the heads of the schools involved, as well as Mr and Mrs Bacon. With their support, Viraj, who is the very heartbeat of WaterWise in Mauritius, will be able to expand the project successfully, thereby cultivating an awareness of water safety among all his people.
On a final note, I’d like to add that the hospitality of the local islanders is in a class of its own. The beautiful, eager children and endless, pearly white beaches surrounded by coral reefs that teem with life are definitely calling me to return. If not for WaterWise, then for a holiday!