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A passion for empowering children with critical water safety skills has brought Warrant Officer Allister Boer, Commander of the South African Police Service’s Water Policing and Diving Services, Boland, and the NSRI’s longest standing Drowning Prevention Instructor, Eoudia Erasmus, together to make an impact in their community.

Roughly three years ago, Warrant Officer Allister Boer, Commander of the South African Police Service’s Water Policing and Diving Services, Boland, happened to be conducting a training exercise at a swimming pool in Dennebos, Ceres, at the same time that NSRI water safety instructor Eoudia Erasmus was giving her umpteenth Survival Swimming class to a group of local pre-schoolers.

“Afterwards, I went up and asked her what she was doing. And then I asked how I could get involved. She was the only one doing this work in the area, managing this group of young children. I really wanted to help her. In the previous year, a lot of children had drowned. Apart from water policing in the district, much of the work of the Water Policing and Diving Services unit involves searching for and recovering or retrieving bodies from drownings. So I thought, if there’s any way I can get involved and help prevent those drownings, I will do it.”

It was only in November 2023, at the start of the summer season, though, that Allister was able to get involved on a consistent basis, attending weekly water safety talks with Eoudia at schools and places of safety for children, as well as assisting her with Survival Swimming classes in public pools throughout the district.

“I can already see it’s made an incredible difference,” he says. “For December, we only had one child drowning. It’s still one too many, but this is the first time since I’ve been doing this job that we’ve only had one drowning over December. Usually, the number is substantially higher.”

Eoudia attributes the success of Allister’s involvement to the fact that children look up to him as a role model.

“The message of water safety has more impact coming from him,” she says. “He’s from the area, the kids can relate to him. They hang on his every word... It’s very exciting for them. It’s more than just presenting the Survival Swimming skills – he really inspires the children. If I divide them into groups, the boys all want to be in Warrant Officer Boer’s group!”

Apart from the gravity of his law enforcement status, Allister also brings his intimate knowledge of the area and its particular drowning hazards.

“He knows exactly where the children swim and the dangers of the farm dams,” says Eoudia.

Currently stationed Prince Alfred Hamlet, Allister grew up in Ceres, so when children drown in the area, it hits close to home.

“I know most of the hazards in the dams and the rivers, what’s in the water that you can’t see, like grass, reeds, broken bottles, pipes and so on. I communicate to the children what I expect from them, if something happens near water. For example, I want them to leave something to mark the spot where, maybe, someone has gone missing in the water. It makes it easier for us to come back and find people. And not to go in the water, obviously. I also have lots of ‘toys’ that Eoudia doesn’t have, equipment that I use, which the children are always fascinated by.”

Both Allister and Eoudia plan to continue their collaboration. The NSRI has similar collaborations with the South African Police Service’s Water Policing and Diving Services in other districts in the Western Cape, and hopes to expand this inspiring collaboration into other areas of South Africa where drowning incidence is high.

Eoudia herself has been with the NSRI since 2006, and is the longest-serving water safety instructor with the organisation. “For a while, I was in a management role. But then, three years ago, I realised I really missed being out in the field, working directly with children, seeing the impact of this work first-hand. So I decided to go back into the field as an instructor. It was the right decision, I love this work.”

If you live in the Ceres or Boland area and would like to become a Volunteer Water Safety or Survival Swimming instructor with the NSRI, fill out the application form here.

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