The question is, with the ocean and lagoon on our doorsteps, why can so few local children can swim? And why are both the children and their parents seemingly so unaware of the dangers of water? This year in Kleinmond alone, three children drowned and a fourth was rescued and resuscitated in the nick of time.

Famke Boonzaaier, who runs the only swimming school in Kleinmond is distressed, as many locals are, about these tragic incidents. Her school operates at full capacity every day of the week and there is a long list of children waiting their turn for lessons; nevertheless, the reality is that many parents will not be able to pay to send their children for training.

With the school holidays fast approaching, Famke has persuaded the newly launched NSRI station in Kleinmond to join her in running an awareness-creation clinic at the lagoon on Saturday 15 December from 14:00 to 17:00.

It also helps that her husband, Schalk Jnr, is the Station Commander. “The idea is not to be unrealistic and try to teach the children to swim in one lesson,” says Famke, “but to get them to realise that although they may think of the water as their friend, they must never forget that, whether they can swim or not, its power and unpredictability must always be respected. We will spend 20 minutes with each child in the water, one-on-one or one-on-two, demonstrating what to do if they find themselves in difficulties, especially in the lagoon.”

As Schalk explains, “Because the lagoon hasn’t broken through to the sea for several years now, its floor has become incredibly uneven, especially around the hidden rocks. One minute you’ll be standing on firm sand and the next minute, you’ll be in a deep hole and unable to stand at all. The other problem is that the water is very murky at the moment, so you can’t actually see the bottom.

“This is a Blue Flag beach, so life guards are on duty throughout the season, at two separate stations, one overlooking the lagoon and one overlooking the ocean, but especially when there are a lot of children in the lagoon, playing and splashing and making a noise, it’s very difficult to notice when one is missing.”

While Famke and the 10 NSRI crew members will be working in the water with the children, the shore-based volunteers will speak to the parents. They emphasise that no child should enter the water without an adult to supervise them and if they can’t swim, the children should be wearing water wings, a noodle or a floaty of some kind. It doesn’t help to have the adults sitting on the grass or the beach chatting with one another while their children are in the water. By the time they remember to look for the child, it could be too late.

“One of the most important lessons to learn for the children as well as the parents,” adds Famke, ‘is to try to stay calm. As soon as children get into a panic in the water, they start to thrash about and swallow water and that’s where everything starts to unravel.

It’s very important for a child to keep his or her head above water when in difficulties. The other thing for them to remember is to stay on the shallow, sea-side of the yellow safety buoys which have been placed across the lagoon.”

Bookings for the clinic on the 15th can be made by sending a WhatsApp to Schalk on the number below. “We will take any child from the age of three upwards,” says Famke, “as long as they are accompanied by a parent. We really want to do our best to avoid any more tragedies these holidays. This will be a trial run. If it is successful, we may do more of them in the future.”

For more information email station42@searescue.org.za or call Schalk on 083 419 4557.

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