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Kim Abrahams and Ally Wates are involved in two different arms of NSRI’s Survival Swimming initiative. Kim is a paid professional and gives instruction in the long course on offer, and Ally is involved with the pop-up classes that have become quite a feature at Sea Point Pavilion Swimming Pool. They share their experiences.Survival Swimming Full Course classesNSRI’s Survival Swimming Full Course classes, consisting of 13 lessons, were initiated in two new areas during the course of 2020 – Pacaltsdorp in George and Leliebloem House, a home for vulnerable children and families, in Cape Town. Kim gives classes at Leliebloem, which now boasts 13 ‘graduates’ who have successfully completed the course.The reason for setting up the full course at Leliebloem, Kim explains, was so that the children and staff could enjoy the swimming pool, which is on the premises, safely. Kim comes from a swimming teaching background and joined the Survival Swimming team about a year ago. Her motivation? “A passion for teaching children how to swim and to prevent drowning.”“The children, aged from 8 to 18, were all very eager to learn irrespective of their abilities. Some were comfortable in the water, some had basic skills and others had no skills,” she explains. “At first they were all a bit nervous but I guess it was because I was new. But, as they started getting used to me and the lessons, their approach changed. They became very enthusiastic, and sometimes I’d arrive and hear that the group had been ready and excited for hours before the time.”Kim explains that each learner developed at their own pace, but the advantage to having a pool on the premises was that the children could practise what they had learned over the weekend. “This really helped their development, skills and confidence.” Naturally the reintroduction of lockdown Level 3 meant the lessons stopped for a while. Kim had just started running the programme when the announcement was made, but they were able to resume on 18 January. Again, the children used the time to practise. “I’m so proud of the students because they were ready to kick off where we left it before Level 3.”The 13-lesson course covers safe peer rescue, hands-on CPR, how to self-rescue from a face-down position in the water, how to enter and exit the water safely irrespective of water depth, and how to float and propel through water for 5 metres or more. They’re also taught the numbers to call in the event of an emergency.Kim will continue the programme at Leliebloem as there are more groups of children as well as staff who have signed up.For Kim, teaching these lifesaving skills is a great feeling. But “knowing why you're teaching these skills and the intention behind the Survival Swimming programme is an even greater feeling,” she enthuses. “Watching the children progress and put all those skills into action, and watching them do it so confidently is just so amazing! The group at Leliebloem is very special; they have been through real hardships and sometimes that made teaching challenging. But that's also why it was so rewarding to see them enjoy their lessons and progress so well.”Survival Swimming pop-up lessonsAlexandra “Ally” Wates joined the pop-up team at Sea Point Pavilion Swimming Pool at the end of 2018, more or less when the initiative was getting off the ground. She recalls at the time, her focus was on safety talks and demonstrations with the children as they arrived at the pool.Ally has spent most of her career in the education sector, and she felt she had an important and more hands-on role to play in water-safety education. “I feel that connecting with people and children is one of my biggest strengths, so when I was told about the programme, I knew wholeheartedly, it was where I would be able to make the biggest impact. I also know how important water safety and survival swimming are. Most people focus so much on teaching kids to swim, but the young ones, who do not have that kind of access, end up being most at risk. I have always wanted to leave a positive impact in the world and, more importantly, my home, and I felt that this was an incredible opportunity to realise that dream.”The Sea Point Pavilion Survival Swimming squad consists of 15 volunteers and, as far as possible, classes take place every Saturday during the school term (lockdown restrictions permitting). “The students respond very well. We have even taught people well into their seventies. It just goes to show that you can learn a new skill, no matter how old you are. In general, the public has taken to this initiative in an incredibly positive way. They see the value in it and as the day goes on, become more excited about having their turn in the water,” Ally says.Ally believes the Survival Swimming programme is a brilliant initiative “that provides a service to people who would ordinarily not be able to access such valuable and life-saving lessons. It is wonderful to know that we are actively working to save lives by being proactive in our methods and preventing people from getting caught in dangerous situations. It’s very uplifting to know what kind of direct impact one can make from being involved in this.”Ally’s enthusiasm must be in her blood, as she is the great-great niece of another passionate advocate of water safety, Patti Price, who is credited as being the person who, through an intense letter-writing campaign to the media in 1963, inspired the sponsorship of the first Sea Rescue boat, Snoopy, by the Society of Master Mariners. “My family history with the NSRI goes way back,” she smiles. Ally is in the process of joining Station 3 (Table Bay) and is planning to dedicate as much time as she possibly can to what she calls “an amazing institution”.Ally is self-employed which means she can do exactly that. With a flexible schedule, she will be able to give back to the institution she so greatly admires.Would you like to become a Survival Swimming volunteer?NSRI’s Drowning Prevention Coordinator Yaseen Gamiet says if you’re interested in joining the Survival Swimming programme as an instructor, get in touch by sending an email to “The course has been designed to allow volunteers with no previous teaching experience to easily learn the course and teach students. Once an email is received from an interested person, they are asked to complete an online form so we can get better acquainted and identify a suburb/area where they would prefer to teach,” Yaseen explains.If you’re interested in hosting Survival Swimming classes, please email “We are very keen to explore any and all feasible locations where there’s a need and there are volunteers who are keen. The success of this programme relies heavily on volunteers who want to help reduce the numbers of children who drown each year in South Africa.”To read more on Survival Swimming
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