There were many parallels between teaching swiftwater boat operators in the UK, and in the Sudan. There were many differences too (not least, expressing my worries that a screwed up carrier bag wasn’t an appropriate cap for a fuel-tank).
One of the things that struck me the most was a teaching challenge that I’ve certainly experienced (and overcome) in the UK, but not to the same degree. This is the challenge of generalising a skill.
With most rescue training, we try to teach the fundamentals of a skill in a calmer safer environment, before transferring that skill (and maybe combining it with others) into a more challenging environment. A student demonstrates that they have really understood the skill when they can go to a new environment and then use the appropriate skill correctly without prompting from the instructor.
For example: turning a boat 180 degrees in a confined space in flat water, same again in a windy environment, same again in a flowing water environment, then applying that skill in a swiftwater eddy, and then applying it on the eddyline and using the current to assist with the move.
Both groups of students found this really difficult in Sudan. They needed a lot of support and guidance through that process.
I’ve got a few potential reasons for this:
- Teaching through a translator means that you’re never really sure how much of the messages gets across. Thankfully, powerboating is massively practical and things can be easily demonstrated and then physically corrected with a guiding hand on the tiller.
- The challenging environment was too intense. Not a lot of flexibility on that one. The River Nile is the river, and there are only a few narrow (fast) areas within a sensible travelling distance of the Civil Defence base.
- Previous education. A lot of teaching in Sudan seems to be quite militaristic style, especially for the training that the Civil Defence guys get. They’ve not really been expected to adapt, and improvise techniques – they’ve been expected to follow orders.
The reality is that it is probably a combination of all three (and more). Whatever the reason, we got there in the end, and I am very very proud of the hard work of the 11 successful candidates.
“When we started the course, we didn’t want to do it. We are professional rescuers, and we thought we knew everything. Now we know how little we know. Please can we extend the course to one month?”
Yet again – humbled by a candidate feeling comfortable to open up that much.