For many years, I have been against teaching lifeguard courses in swimming pools in LMICs. For me, the turning point came when working with the “Future Leaders of Lifesaving in Africa” hosted by the RNLI in Zanzibar. I had five different people from different countries approach me and ask if it was possible to develop a pool lifeguard programme.
I didn’t believe that it was the right thing to do, because although there are drownings in the swimming pools, the higher risks are in the villages and towns with direct access to open water. I didn’t believe that the right risks were being targeted. Then I learnt that many of these organisations were already running pool lifeguard courses, from ancient photocopies of photocopies of outdated materials, using old techniques. Why were they running these courses? Because there was demand.
I reflected on the large HIC lifesaving organisations, and it dawned on me that almost all of them certify commercial pool lifeguard courses, and by doing so they earn money, which in turn is then reinvested in their charitable drowning prevention work.
Why wouldn’t that approach work in LMICs?
Consequently, RLSS Commonwealth decided to develop a pool lifeguard training resource, and Nile Swimmers piloted that course in Sudan. It has been a very useful process, and there are certainly some refinements that we will be making.
These participants will finish this course with a certificate that means they can get a job. Indeed, previous male participants on our beach lifeguard courses have moved abroad to work as lifeguards in the Gulf. People know this, and so there is a demand for the course, which in turn creates a demand for (and an interest in becoming) instructors.
By working with the Sudanese Swimming Federation, we hope to start to normalise the idea of pool lifeguarding, and training. In time, the standards of safety in swimming pools will raise, and hopefully the certificates can become an income stream for Nile Swimmers to be used in the delivery of Aquatic Survival programmes to the higher risk communities living on the Nile.
All of that links into profile raising, which ultimately links to in-country fundraising, and therefore long-term sustainability.