Children from Owia being taught how to swim
July 14, 2015

Children from Owia being taught how to swim

by Azannie Lavia

Following the Rock Gutter tragedy in which seven students lost their lives, children from the communities of Owia and surrounding areas are being taught to swim.

The programme, which is being run by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Amateur Swimming {{more}}Association (SVGASA), with the support of the Mustique Charitable Trust (MCT), has the involvement of 30 children from the area who meet every Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

The coaches, Derrence Lavia, Troy Lavia and Dwight Baptiste of Owia were selected after Derrence braved the strong Atlantic waves to save students on January 12, 2015 after the minibus they were travelling in overturned and plunged into the water below.

Describing the coaches as “absolutely incredible young men,” project coordinator Louise Mitchell-Joseph said that the SVGASA are blessed to have them onboard.

Mitchell-Joseph told SEARCHLIGHT in an interview yesterday that the Owia initiative is part of a nationwide Grassroots Swimming programme and they aim to go to as many communities as possible. She said Owia was chosen as part of the project after she heard about the Rock Gutter tragedy.

“When I heard about the Rock Gutter tragedy, I also heard about the amazing heroes of the day who were the persons from the community who actually went into the water to try to save lives…”

The MCT became supportive of the programme when the SVGASA “appealed to them” after becoming aware that the MCT finances programmes throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Lavinia Gunn, administrative director of the MCT, in a brief interview with SEARCHLIGHT yesterday, said the contribution by the MCT to the programme is “a financial contribution that was passed to the Grassroot Swimming programme.

“It is in various communities in St Vincent and the Grenadines; there is Layou, Sion Hill, Rose Place and Owia.”

Gunn said it was the SVGASA’s initiative to help the youngsters, especially in rural communities, to learn to swim and to develop swimming techniques.

“The SVGASA approached the MCT for a grant and the trustees approved the grant which is being used for the Grassroot Swimming programme.”

The financial contribution by the MCT is being used to cover transportation for coaches, depending on the community. In Owia in particular, the financial contribution covers the coaches and any supervision or equipment that is needed and also snacks for the participants. The programme has been approved for another six months.

According to Mitchell-Joseph, “the response has been awesome.”

She said “the turnout is excellent, so it makes it very exciting to work in the Owia community because the response has been overwhelming.”

The aim of the national programme is to make sure that every child in St Vincent and the Grenadines is eventually able to swim.

“Primarily, this is about safety more than anything else. That is one thing that the Rock Gutter tragedy brought home, as well as that swimming is a life skill that our children do not have and they must have. We’re living on an island surrounded by water; swimming has to be a priority. Not just as an exercise, but as a life saving basic skill children need to have.”

The programme uses an open watercourse and Mitchell-Joseph stated that one of the difficulties with Owia is that the sea is often very rough. She also said that the main problem the programme had faced with other communities was finding skilled swimmers to use as coaches, but this has not been a problem in Owia.

The older children swim at an area adjacent to the Owia Fisheries Complex, while the toddlers take lessons inside the Owia Salt Pond. The children and coaches have been provided with the necessary swimming gear in order to participate in the programme, with the uniforms for the children being purchased by a donor.

Unfortunately, the programme has been held up for the past few weeks because of the presence of a large quantity of Sargassum seaweed along the eastern coastline of St Vincent. The seaweed gives off an unpleasant stench and it causes the skin to itch.