NSRI Drowning Prevention Manager, Andrew Ingram says their dream has finally come to fruition, with the delivery of the first NSRI Survival Swimming Centre to Meiring Primary School in Riebeek Kasteel.
“Children often don’t get to have swimming lessons because of financial barriers,” Andrew explains. “The other thing that prevents children from learning to swim is having a safe piece of water to do it in. And lastly, the absolute nightmare is a child drowning in a swimming pool. These problems all mean that what is needed is a safe indoor swimming pool that can be moved anywhere.”
The Drowning Prevention team came up with an ingenious solution to these problems. They decided to build an NSRI Survival Swimming Centre inside a twelve-metre long shipping container. The centre features a six-metre long swimming pool, an office space for the instructor, and a change room for the students. The pool is one metre deep, so small children can stand in it, and it can be locked up to prevent anyone from accessing the pool.
“When the container is locked, the only way to get into it is with professional cutting equipment,” Andrew says. “The idea of building the swimming pool inside the container is that we can get safe water to anyone in the country and once that container is locked nobody can access it.”
The 6-metre length of the pool comes from the World Health Organization’s directive which states that you need to teach children to move through water for at least 5 metres.
“When we are called to a drowning, we usually find that they have drowned right where they went underwater – they just go straight down,” Andrew says. “That’s because they have absolutely no idea how to swim. So if you can teach them the four core skills, which are breath control, orientation, floatation, and propulsion through the water for 5 metres, they should be able to get themselves back to safety.”
The ambitious project came with a number of challenges, which the team overcame through partnerships with various companies.
One of these challenges was how to ensure that the water is kept clean. It required an excellent filtration and circulation system as it would be used many times in one day.
“A company called Fluidra came to the party with an absolutely top-of-the-line system, which is automated, so the survival swimming teacher just needs to focus on teaching swimming. I can look at my cellphone at any time of the day and I can see the water temperature, and the pH and acidity levels. And we can monitor everything that happens in the container from our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). We have a camera in the container and the EOC and I get an alert when someone enters. We can then access the camera and see who is entering.”
The first phase of the project is being trialed and tested at Meiring Primary School. The school was identified by the NSRI after a fatal drowning incident that took place there.
“The Headmaster of the school is absolutely thrilled with it and we hope that by the end of the year we will have created a swimming culture at the school,” Andrew says. “It’s amazing to have had a dream that is now a reality and will make a difference to so many children around the country. We will target two of the teachers at the school and teach them survival swimming. So once we’ve taught as many of the children as possible, we can move the pool and leave behind a culture of safe swimming. That way we can teach South African children how to swim, one school, and one child at a time.”
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