You would think that living on an island, St Lucians would be strong swimmers. Sadly, this isn’t the case, and the number of childhood drownings has risen considerably over the last five years. According to the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) over 360,000 people die from drowning every year worldwide; over 90% of those casualties are in low or middle-income countries. Every year, one or more families in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia, a small, impoverished Caribbean community, experience the trauma of their child’s drowning in the bay. In 2018, our St. Lucia community partner asked Global Volunteers for help turning this alarming trend around.
We asked St. Lucia Country Manager Chemida Popo-Cox about the rise of childhood drownings in St. Lucia.
“When I was a child, large groups of children of all ages would gather at the beach or local ponds and swim together, with the older kids watching out for the younger ones. Today it’s different, circumstances have changed. Children no longer gather in large groups anymore, because the older children prefer to stay at home playing electronic games or watching television. This often leaves the younger children unsupervised and roaming freely – unable to assess the danger factors when playing around a body of water.”
Our community partners asked: Could we teach swimming lessons?
In the summer of 2018, our community partners in Anse Le Raye asked Global Volunteers for help. They wanted their children to not only learn to swim, but most importantly, be taught the skills to survive in a body of water if necessary. We agreed to recruit volunteers who could respond to this critical need. The first session was a huge success, with lessons taught by alumna Ann Goldstein, and 18-year-old Tumi Tyndall, a trained lifeguard. The impact of the swimming lessons was huge in raising awareness about the dangers of water, and helping local elementary school children to swim. One example was Alissa, who was scared of water and unable to swim. After two weeks of daily swimming lessons with our volunteers, she’d learned the basics of swimming. Our partner and Country Manager marveled at the progress she made in such a short time, demonstrating the long-term value of this volunteer project.
“I could see some improvements every day. Like any sport, the children will need reinforcement to perfect what they have been taught. Changing poor swimming habits is a challenge, and progress is slow, but the children are eager to learn.”St. Lucia Volunteer Tumi Tyndall
According to a 2014 report by the World Health Organization:
- Over half of all drowning deaths are among those aged 25 and under.
- Males are twice as likely to drown as females.
- Drowning is one of the 10 leading causes of death for people aged 1-24 years.
A leading killer of children:
After Tuberculosis and Measles, drowning is the third most common cause of death for children under 15 years of age.
What are the risk factors?
- Children living near bodies of water, ponds, lakes, beaches, and are left to play freely, unaccompanied by adults.
- Natural disasters.
- Tsunami, extreme rainfall, storm surges, cyclones.
- Transportation on water. Especially on overcrowded, or poorly maintained vessels.
How can drownings be prevented?
- Installing barriers, preventing access to water by young children.
- Teach school-age children basic swimming, water safety, and safe rescue skills.
- Train bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.
- Enforce safety regulations for boating, shipping and ferry companies.
- Improve flood/risk management worldwide.
How can you help save the lives of Anse La Raye’s children?
If you can teach swimming, or know someone who teaches swimming lessons to beginners, and is willing to serve in this way, please register for a summer program in St. Lucia, West Indies. We teach in a large pool with a shallow end at the Marigot Bay Cottages – our volunteer lodging. You and your friends or entire family can make an important difference in the lives of children of Anse La Raye. In addition to swimming lessons, volunteers are needed to tutor 2nd- and 6th-grade students in math and English in preparation for their national placement exams, assist with household gardens and EarthBoxes, and teach sewing skills to local moms.
Resources: World Health Organization.