A 15-mile trek camping out overnight in unfamiliar territory with virtual strangers – no problem. Jumping into a four-foot deep pool. Problem. “I thought it was going to be easy but when I went into the water I felt fear rush over me,” said Cristaho Bethel, a Bronze-level participant in the Governor General’s Youth Award, the local operator of the internationally acclaimed Duke of Edinburgh Award – a programme which works to help young people gain essential skills, experience, confidence and resilience to successfully navigate adult life. On Saturday, 55 youths from Jordan Prince Williams, Aquinas College, R.M. Bailey and Anatol Rodgers High School gathered at the South Beach Pools for GGYA’s Water Safety Course, a training drill staged several times a year.
Bethel was one of three participants from R.M. Bailey’s 15-strong group, who struggled during the exercise.“Their fear coming from not knowing and not being comfortable in the water,” said Josiane Floreus, the school’s unit leader. “Even though they took a little longer to get it. I felt proud of them for seeing it through.”
Bethel was adamant she was going to “get it.” She passed up the opportunity to grab a hold of an extra flotational device. “After the instructors coached me through it and taught me what to do, I felt better, more comfortable,” said the tenth grader. Since 1995, GGYA has staged its Water Safety Course, a pivotal safety component as all its award-qualifying expeditions require mailboat travel. In the mid-90s, the organization realized participants were at risk during their sea voyage from island to island. Should an emergency occur aboard ship, they wouldn’t know what to do.
Thus Lawson Clarke, a now retired Royal Bahamas Defence Force chief petty officer and Denise Mortimer, GGYA’s national director designed a course to introduce participants to risky situations which could take place at sea. The most likely emergencies are the result of fire caused by solids, liquid, or electrical malfunctioning. A second emergency could be man overboard. Participants learn how to initiate the rescue process. A third scenario is abandoning ship, which instructs them on what to do if the ship begins taking on water and introduce the youths to the life raft and how to climb in.
“It is essential participants know the different parts of a boat, the different classes of fire, what to do in an emergency and where to go,” said Ms Mortimer. “We are not teaching them how to swim, we’re simply taking them through the process of the proper way to abandon a ship in the event of an emergency.” The young persons are taught to locate the raft in the water and build “a canoe”, that is a chain of swimmers. “You have strong swimmers and weak swimmers. The strong swimmers will leave the weak swimmers behind and we know the rule is, once you get in the raft, you don’t come out. If that weak simmer can’t make it to the raft, then that’s one we’ve lost,” explained Mr Clarke. “We build a canoe to get to the raft as a unit. Once they get there, they turn the raft over and help each other in.”