Volunteers come to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) in a number of ways.
And for some of the women volunteers at NSRI inland station 27 at Benoni, located in Ekurhuleni municipality in Gauteng, volunteering does not mean having lots of spare time on their hands.
Jamie Potgieter joined the NSRI six years ago and has racked up close to 1,000 hours of volunteer time.
“Being a volunteer is not always easy,” she said. “Many people don’t understand that we are giving up our free time to help them but we keep doing it because it is our passion. It’s what we do.”
Her father started volunteering with NSRI when she was five years old, so she “grew up running around rescue bases, some would say it is in my blood”.
Potgieter is a trainee coxswain (rescue vessel pilot) and assists with water safety at events such as school canoeing and at flash floods, while also training juniors to be the next generation rescuers.
Mala Shunmoogam is a trainee shore crew member, responsible for liaison between base and the rescue team at events as well as search and rescue during Gauteng floods.
Her duties include ensuring injured parties are safely handed over to paramedics on duty. She is a qualified Level 3 first aider through St Johns.
“Being a volunteer does not mean that we have nothing to do with our time. It means we prioritise our family, work and community time,” Shunmoogam said. “We believe we need to play our part by volunteering some time to help the community.”
She joined the NSRI after attending an exhibition at the Fire Department in Boksburg where the NSRI had equipment on display along with a video presentation. On meeting the NSRI Station Commander, she decided it was a way “to make a difference to at least one person’s life”.
Station 27 is one of five inland stations operating around dams and rivers of South Africa with the goal to prevent drowning through rescue operations, education and prevention initiatives, and has a strong component of female members.
More than a quarter of NSRI volunteers are women, with the number growing each year. Women form an integral part of the non-profit organisation which is dedicated to saving lives on South African coastal and inland waters and was founded by pioneering woman Patti Price in 1966, following the tragic deaths of fishermen off Still Bay.
Many of the women volunteers at Station 27 joined either through their children or other family members.
Sherezaan “Zani” Botha is a trainee water and shore crew member and joined the NSRI after her cousin did. She said she decided to “do something good in my spare time as I love helping people in need”.
Libby Niterl joined with her children. “I wanted them to learn certain skills I could not teach them.”
Annie van Rooyen who joined with her daughter, loves learning the new skills she acquires as part of her ongoing training with the NSRI.
Niterl and Van Rooyen are both part of the lifesaving crew, while Niterl is also the station’s committee secretary, responsible for ordering and issuing stock items and playing a pivotal role in the day-to-day running of the station.
“Giving back to the community and being a part of a family outside of my immediate family, the camaraderie,” is one of the prime motivating factors for Niterl.
August is celebrated as Women’s Month in South Africa, and Potgieter said, “Women are able to do just as much as men and are able to bring added qualities such as empathy and compassion to the table.
'Being inland, the physical challenges may not be as great (as coastal), but we do our share. It’s great to be a woman in what was previously a male dominated field.”
Shunmoogam added, “Women’s empowerment does not mean that men and women become the same. It means that we have access to opportunities such as sea rescue volunteering and life changes which is not dependent, nor constrained, by our gender, but rather by our abilities.”
And outside of the NSRI? The women of NSRI Station 27 have a diverse range of roles and occupations, ranging from au pair and student, sales consultant, motor industry auditor, personal assistant, and risk and legal compliance manager.
Saving lives on South African waters, it’s what they do.
Jess Shelver - Duty Spokesperson
M: 076 175 0663
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