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We chat to Water Safety Educator Simoné Bantam about bringing life-saving information to children in the Northern Cape.

While KwaZulu-Natal has the highest drowning rates in the country, the Northern Cape is the province with the most drownings in children aged 0 to 4 years – that’s according to a study conducted by Dr Jill Fortuin, Executive Director of Drowning Prevention at the NSRI, as well as NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson and researchers Innocent Karangwa and Nongcebo Mahlalela, who is a research assistant at the NSRI.

This age group has been identified to be at the highest risk of drowning, with a cumulative countrywide drowning incidence of 2 755 fatal drownings per year, a rate of 48 per 100 000. In the Northern Cape, the rate is 141 per 100 000 – a tragic figure, considering that these drownings are entirely preventable.

Until recently, the Northern Cape was not an area that had been prioritised for targeted drowning prevention strategies; however, Water Safety Educator Simoné Bantam has been teaching lifesaving skills to young children and – even more importantly – their parents, to help eradicate these unnecessary drownings in the province since January this year, and has already reached roughly 10 000 people in the area.

“This year I relocated from Wellington to Doringbaai in the Western Cape, my home town where I grew up. It’s one of the towns near the Northern Cape border, so I frequently travel over the border to teach in the Northern Cape. The people in the Northern Cape are very eager to receive the water safety talks that we do in schools.”

Drowning prevention talk

Having worked as a water safety educator in the Western Cape since 2019, where she gave water safety presentations to roughly 5500 adults and children, Simoné plans to tackle the Upington area next.

“The children in the zero- to four-year-old age groups can’t wait to hear the story of ‘Skillie and Pikkie’, a penguin and a turtle, and they love it when I show them the flash cards and learn how easy it is to drown. They also learn the emergency number 112. Educating parents is also essential because they must always know the whereabouts of their children and how to keep them safe in and around water. Adult supervision is very important for this age group.”

For Simoné, working with children is a calling. “I love working with children, and when I see in their faces that they enjoyed learning and listening to what I teach them, that makes me happy. I nearly drowned when I was a child, so for me to teach children how to be safe near water warms my heart. I love knowing that I am making a difference.”

Something tells us that by the time Dr Fortuin and co. conduct their next study, the drowning rates in the Northern Cape will be dramatically lower. Keep up the good work Simoné, and thank you for your service.

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