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Regional WaterSafety team leader for the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Valerie Barlow lives in Port St Johns and has worked for the NSRI for three years. She’s passionate about teaching water safety to children – especially in rural areas where people don’t have access to swimming lessons and children lack adult supervision.Children are my passionI’m a qualified teacher. I initially started working half days for the NSRI (I’ve been full-time since January this year) as it allowed me to do something of high value, to continue the projects that I was already involved in and to share my educational experience – all of this in an organisation with values that align so well with my own.I’ll never forget this one water-safety lessonI visited a school where a child’s cousins had drowned just a few weeks before. He was only about five or six years old and he had been the one to run home and report that he couldn’t see the two cousins he’d been swimming with. Being in the same space with him, and hearing his account of the incident, really crystallized the importance of our role in education – especially in rural areas where people don’t have access to swimming lessons and where children often swim unsupervised.I work in the most rural parts of the Eastern CapeSchool communication can be very limited due to poor phone service and regular power cuts (some cell towers don’t have back-up batteries for load shedding). It can also be difficult to get to certain schools during heavy rains and lessons are sometimes cancelled due to bad weather, strikes or memorial services – and the message doesn’t always reach the water-safety instructor beforehand.During lockdown, we’ve had to change the way we workWith school closures and lockdown restrictions, we’ve had to use other media to spread the water-safety message – radio, TV, newspapers, and videos and infographics on social media. We have also been doing a few online water-safety lessons at schools. We’ve developed a daily contact point with the instructors, in the form of a small motivational or learning task for the day, to keep motivated and focussed. We’ve had to learn and teach new digital skills very quickly.A drowning can happen to absolutely anyone It can happen very quickly and not in the obvious way we see on TV or in movies. Vigilance of children is key. We all have a responsibility to discourage our friends and family when we can see them being reckless around water, like drinking alcohol and swimming.I am very interested in alternative healingWhen I’m not teaching water safety, I practice reiki and learn about other ways of living without ‘dis-ease’. I enjoy sewing, knitting, dancing and gardening. I am a committee member of a foundation school in my village (catering to two-to-eight year-olds), which I set up a few years ago. I assist with the strategic planning, fundraising and training of teachers. I also help with homework and extra lessons when I have the time.Most importantly I enjoy being with my family and friends. They know how to make me laugh, how to enjoy good music and how to live simply.5 ways you can help to spread the water safety message and save lives
  1. Be an example. Model water safety in the way you supervise your children at the beach, for example. People are always watching and learning, even when you don’t know it.
  2. Volunteer to look after a Pink Rescue Buoy near you. The NSRI has installed over 700 Pink Rescue Buoys across the country. You can make sure that these lifesaving flotation devices remain in place and ready to be used in an emergency. For more info email
  3. Volunteer to assist with Survival Swimming. Pop-up Survival Swimming lessons form part of the NSRI’s Drowning Prevention programme. You can give your time to help make these happen. For more info on Survival Swimming email
  4. Volunteer to give water-safety lessons. Receive online training and guidance to present water-safety lessons in your community. For more info on teaching water safety in schools email
  5. Donate! Sea 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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