Andrew Ingram, head of Drowning Prevention at NSRI, explains how his team has adapted to keep working under lockdown restrictions.
On 26 March 2020 South Africa went into level 5 lockdown, and for Sea Rescue’s water-safety team it was the end of face-to-face teaching in schools. Our plan to reach 600 000 children with our water-safety lessons was blown out of the water by President Ramaphosa on 23 March. Schools were closed. The team had taught just over 127 000 children and we needed to find new ways of getting our safety messages out into the communities that most needed it.At first, under level 5 and level 4 of lockdown, the number of drownings dropped remarkably. So much so that we are going to have to mark 2020 drowning statistics with an * when reviewing them in the future. But as the lockdown was relaxed people started venturing out. The terrible stories of children drowning once again started appearing in media reports.Between 12 June and 19 July various media houses reported on three double drowning incidents. Six children had drowned because of failed peer rescue attempts. Nomswenko, 18, and Loveness, 15, drowned in Mabulala Dam near Hazyview in Mpumalanga; Abieda,8, and a man who tried to help her drowned in a canal in Belgravia, Cape Town; Damien, 7, and his sister Kyli, 5, drowned in a dam near Gansbaai; and 10-year-old Jay-den was swept off the Gansbaai harbour wall. None of these tragedies should have happened. They were all preventable.As a department we had already pivoted and were focused on digital water-safety education. Our 21 Instructors had, almost overnight, become confident to be interviewed on radio about general water safety. A few had even secured television interviews. With the help of our team leaders, and the accurate fatal drowning statistics that we have built up, we targeted messages at the relevant communities, and in their home languages. We sent safety messages to all the platforms that we could reach with a strong focus on WhatsApp, Facebook and local radio stations.We searched Google for and identified local community leaders who would install and monitor Pink Rescue buoys, we talked on radio about the danger of peer rescue, how to help someone in difficulty in the water and who to call for help, and we sent out short video-clip messages from our instructors in local languages on WhatsApp and Facebook.From being a team that specialised in face-to-face teaching, in a few short weeks the drowning prevention team had honed their digital skills. With mobile phone and PCs we are now carefully targeting communities that are at risk, and getting water-safety messages to those who need them the most with video, graphics and pictures that tell 1 000 words. It’s what we do. And Covid-19 is not going to stop us.Contribute to NSRI’s Pink Rescue Buoy initiative by volunteering to become a custodian of the Pink Rescue Buoy in your area or by sponsoring a buoy – find out more