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Drowning is a major cause of accidental death in South Africa, claiming the lives of more than 600 children each year. So when a child uses the skills that they’ve learnt in the NSRI’s Drowning Prevention programme to save a friend, it’s a tragedy averted – and proof that water-safety lessons really work.“Never jump in! Use a stick or a towel to help them, but not your hand because they could pull you in!” That’s how a five-year-old from a Tulbagh creche very confidently answered Eoudia Erasmus, National Team Leader of the NRSI’s WaterSafety programme, when she asked the group of small children if they knew how to help a friend who was struggling in the water.“I asked how he knew the answer and he explained that his brother, who had attended a WaterSafety presentation at the primary school the week before, had told him. It’s stories like this one, of children spreading the water-safety skills we teach, that make me proud of our project,” says Eoudia.There is every reason to be proud. Since the programme started in 2006, nearly 2.8 million South Africans have learned how to prevent and respond to drowning. In addition to giving presentations to adults, WaterSafety instructors teach children at schools across the country – from creche through to Grade 12 – basic water safety skills. These cover how to avoid danger, what to do and who to call in an emergency, how to perform peer rescue, and how to do bystander CPR.The lessons, given free of charge, are engaging, interactive and tailored to the area in which they take place – focussing on dams inland and rip currents, for example, on the coast. They’re also modified according to age. While children in creche learn with the help of soft toys, those in Grades 5 to 12 learn bystander CPR using a dummy.Over the years, several stories have emerged about children saving others as a result of what they learnt in the programme. Eoudia shares two of her all-time favourites.Teen boys save eight-year-old Donnalee in Ceres In October 2019, four young boys ran to help Donnalee Oerson, age 8, as she lay motionless on the side of a farm dam in Ceres. Waylan Malan (16), Gabriel Filander (13), Keanen Jansen (18) and Wesley Storm (10) had attended a Sea Rescue WaterSafety lesson three years before – and yet they still remembered how to perform CPR.Donnalee and some friends had broken the rules and gone for a sneaky swim on a hot summer’s day when she stepped into a deep inlet ditch that could not be seen from the surface. Suddenly the tiny girl could not stand and slipped under water.Her friends were able to pull her out and started screaming for help. Waylan, Gabriel, Keanen and Wesley came running from where they’d been swimming, in a deeper part of the dam. They knelt down next to Donnalee’s lifeless body and took turns to administer CPR, just as they’d been taught by Eoudia a few years before. After a few long minutes, Donnalee started coughing up water and vomiting. When the paramedics arrived a few minutes later, they realised the boys had saved her life. boys save Oom Sam in Oudtshoorn In January 2016, a farm worker known as Oom Sam went for a swim in a farm dam. He had been drinking alcohol and was unable to continue swimming. Teenagers Daniel Ewerts and Kashief Esau saw him sinking under the water’s surface.The boys had attended a Sea Rescue WaterSafety peer-rescue lesson, which covered the extreme danger that rescuers face when entering the water to help a drowning person. But the boys were strong swimmers and they knew the drowning man would put up no resistance. So they made the call to go in after him. While they were in the water, another child threw a 5-litre plastic container to them to use as a flotation device as they pulled the unconscious man to safety.When they got Oom Sam to land, he was frothing at the mouth and the children knew that he had drowned. Another child, who had seen CPR done on television, decided he would give it a try to get Oom Sam breathing again.A woman in a nearby house had watched the incident unfold and called for help. When the paramedic, Riaan Botha, arrived, he took over and discovered that the CPR had worked – the patient had a pulse. Oom Sam was taken to Oudtshoorn Hospital and made a full recovery.What Eoudia wants all children to know“It’s essential to teach children to be safe around water. When we teach them safety rules, they are less likely to put themselves in dangerous situations and, should one arise, they will be able to handle it,” Eoudia explains. “Learning water-safety and peer-rescue skills such as CPR and basic rescue techniques from a young age can help save a life! Always remember, drowning is silent.” How you can helpSea Rescue’s WaterSafety programme is a non-profit organisation that relies on funding to teach hundreds of thousands of South Africans lifesaving skills each year via a network of WaterSafety instructors across the country. It costs R10 per person per lesson, so by donating even a small amount, you could help save someone’s life. Visit to donate today.
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