As recent tragedies have shown, there is an ever-increasing need for Fijians to improve their aquatic skills to reduce the high number of accidental deaths from drowning.
Longtime advocate for improving the aquatic skills of Fijians, Shane Gould, winner of 5 Olympic medals, who grew up in Fiji, has received increased financial support to continue her work with villages and schools on Viti Levu.
Supported by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program and sponsored by Newworld IGA supermarket, Shane Gould and her husband Milt Nelms, who is one of the world’s leading swimming technical experts, will have visited Fiji four times between October last year and this August conducting swim clinics in Coral Coast villages and other locations, while building an increasing network of supporters across the country. The next visit is in early May.
Working in villages, communities and schools is key to the program being introduced by Gould and Nelms. Their work is not about producing champion swimmers in Fiji, but people who better understand the water, its risks and how to swim safely. It is about swimming as a lifelong skill, while hoping to make people better qualified to work in the tourism industry that often revolves around Fiji’s water environments.
An important step in the development of the drowning prevention program was to build a relationship with Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort three years ago. The resort’s community liaison manager Kini Sarai introduced Gould and Nelms to villages and schools throughout Viti Levu. Through the work done in these areas, five local men are now trained to deliver swim sessions and water safety awareness training. A number of other men and women are in training.
Nelms says, “The work we are doing would not be possible without collaboration with local people. Their insights have helped us to understand the problems. Their communication of solutions to their communities/villages is having a big impact especially the understanding of why accidents happen and what to do about it. But more needs to be done.”
Gould, still a keen recreational swimmer, adds,”We have given 5,000 people practical swimming education and water safety awareness so far. I can see a lot of sport swimming talent, but we are focused on fundamental water skills, not racing skills.”
Practical meetings have been conducted in the Rewa province, Northern and Central highlands and the Western division. The Girl Guides and Rangers of the Nadroga-Navosa province had a training with theory and in the water at Malomalo, learning techniques like how to check for safe swimming conditions and how to ‘travel’ in the water when you have a cramp or are tired.
Explaining the reason for their support,CEO Newworld IGA Mr Anil Patel said, “Newworld has an existing engagement program that allows us, in some small way, to give back to the community. We felt that water safety awareness didn’t have enough exposure as required, especially with number of unnecessary fatalities occurring so close to home and as such, were only too pleased to be part of the Shane Gould Swimming Project.”
According to Kini Sarai of Tagaqe Village, Activities Director and Community Liaison at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, “In the past, our Fijian children were taught throughout childhood how to be safe around the water, with love, by their parents, and by others close to them. Today, with the changes in our society, this teaching of safe behaviour around the water is done by third parties, or not at all. Shane and Milton have used their understanding and respect for this old skill and knowledge, and their own knowledge, to develop a way of teaching water safety that combines the old and the new. This is a ‘grassroots-up’ approach that uses local resources, as opposed to an ‘expert-down’ approach. People are enthusiastic about this method wherever it is being used.”
Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twomey, said of the program, “Fijians, like Australians, love the water. Learning to swim safely will ensure that Fiji’s children, men and women can work and play confidently in their marine surroundings. It is wonderful to see Shane Gould, a beloved figure in both our countries, continuing to work with Fijians to improve their aquatic skills.”
For Gould and Nelms, it is their respect for Fijian culture and sense of community that spurs their interest in this important work.
“We know that each time we show people how to improve their swimming and to increase their knowledge of water safety that steps are being taken to make a generational change. The main aim is to reduce the number of preventable deaths occurring each year. We thank our supporters and invite others to join them and us in our efforts,” said Gould.