By Michael Vallejo, Red Cross media relations volunteer - For a young eight-year-old Abigail, conquering her fear of water was no small accomplishment.
At the beginning of her swimming course this summer, she was so frightened of the water she would barely get close to the pool. However, with the support and encouragement of her Red Cross-trained swimming instructors, and her own determination to learn, Abigail made significant progress. She is now excited to swim and dive and is no longer afraid to participate in water-related activities.
Abigail, a Haitian immigrant, is one of 175 youths between the ages of five and 14 who participated in the American Red Cross South Florida Region Swim Safety Initiative funded by the Allegany Franciscan Ministries.
The two organizations have joined forces to conduct swimming and water safety training programs aimed at reducing the number of drowning-related injuries and deaths in northern Miami-Dade. Miami-Dade County ranks second in the state of Florida for the most drowning deaths—and the state of Florida has the highest drowning rate in the nation for children under the age of 5. Forty-seven deaths (including all ages) were reported in 2009, according to the county’s medical examiner. According to the Florida Department of Health, 11 children under the age of 5 drowned between Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in 2011. Many of those children were of Caribbean descent.
Partnering with two community agencies, Fanm Asyisyen Miyami, Inc. (FANM) and Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, the Red Cross and Allegany Franciscan Ministries began its mission to spread lifesaving water safety training to underserved and low-income families between the dates of June 1, 2010 and November 30, 2012. The Swim Safety Initiative reached 175 youths between the ages of five to 14 with swimming and water safety lessons, additionally 400 adults and caregivers received free drowning prevention and water safety education. Red Cross staff and Red Cross-certified water safety instructors provided swimming and water safety lessons with various age-appropriate aquatic skills, blending three two-week courses (Levels 1, 2, and 3) of the American Red Cross Learn-To-Swim program at municipal pools in Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, and Hialeah.
Four hundred adults were reached with the Water Safety Today: Target Zero training program. Adults and caregivers who attend are trained to respond quickly and appropriately to aquatic-related emergencies, and given instruction on proper supervision around aquatic environments. The two-hour classroom course includes CPR and first aid skills demonstrations; many of which are also applicable in non-aquatic settings. As adults are ultimately responsible for the well-being of children in their care, the Swim Safety Initiative’s goal is to help them learn about safety, and to overcome common, long-standing fears and negative attitudes about water. By doing so, adults are better prepared with the proper response tools should an emergency take place involving themselves, their loved ones or neighbors.
“The American Red Cross, through generous funding from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, reached hundreds of families in 2010-2012 with life-saving water safety education in northern Miami-Dade County,” said Patrick Beason, Red Cross Territory Aquatics Specialist for Central & South Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Our goal is to target underserved communities with free water safety education to help eliminate the overall high rate of drowning-related injuries and deaths in South Florida.”
Positive long-term changes are sure to be achieved by the program. Water safety education is desperately needed in local communities—particularly those of Caribbean origin—to combat the high rate of drowning and drowning-related injury in South Florida. Overcoming fear of water and water safety education continues to be a priority for the Red Cross and its community partners. It is our hope that children and families reached by the Swim Safety Initiative will help break the persistent cycle of “aquaphobia” found in many communities. Adults and children alike will then be able to enjoy a fun and safer experience around water, while being better prepared to respond in case of emergencies.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org.