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Monday, September 19, 2011

Pilot swimming lessons

Since the AvTech Academy had not officially started, I took the girls swimming at a public pool in a nearby town this week. Now, what sounds like a fun holiday activity – and a cool refreshment from the heat – was actually driven by more serious means: "Learning to swim is good for some of the things we do," says Emmanuella, "like Search And Rescue and flying of the float plane". "And in case of an emergency on water, I can safe my life and that of others” adds Juliet. Hence, It is a strong and inevitable necessity to teach our young future Ghanaian pilots to survive and swim.

Now, while most of us had to be able to prove our swimming skills in Junior High at the latest, swimming is not part of the Ghanaian school curriculum at any stage. Having a large population living around the Volta lake, not to mention those making their daily income on the lake – this bears a high risk of preventable casualties – if only they could swim. In fact, many fishermen cannot swim. Some might have an idea on how to keep their head above the water surface, with techniques that do not necessarily fall under typical, non-exhausting, “swimming”.

Just last week, a heavily overloaded boat sunk not far from Kete Krachi. After hitting a tree stump in the Lake, leading to the capsizing of the boat, and a death toll of around 25, with one person still missing. This unfortunately proves, how a few lessons of the right swimming techniques and improvements of skills (and the adherence to safety on and around water, including the use of life vests), can save lives.

Before starting to work on the girls’ techniques, I asked the girls what they had been shown, seen or tried before regarding swimming. I don’t think “doggy paddle” has made it yet to become a category for the Olympics, has it? We started with the basics of breast stroke: I did some “dry” illustrations, laying on the pool’s edge, to show the movements of legs and arms.

Because of her arm, Lydia could not participate in these lessons – yet. She said "I am a little bit jealous to see what Juliet and Emmanuella are learning, and I cannot practice with them". But she enjoyed watching the girls struggle with their coordination and kept herself busy with splashing water at us, while knowing we couldn’t do the same to her.

Since we were in the shallow pool of standing depth, none of the girls were at risk of drowning and we did some separate practices on arm movements while sitting in the water as well as separate leg movements whilst holding on to the edge. Bringing those movements together was the tricky part.

I took each of the girls on rounds and laps, up and down the pool, holding my supporting hand just beneath their belly to keep them evenly leveled below the water surface. Without the right body tension, there was significant drag under the water; without coordinated movement of legs and arms, their bodies moved unevenly up and down like a boat in a storm, splashing water into their faces and causing abrupt cessation of forward movements. But after a while, both Juliet and Emmanuella, had their “ahhaaa” effect: Keeping your fingers closed gives much more surface to push the water away and move forward; pushing water not only sideward but downwards gives extra lift to keep the head over water; keeping legs and feet under water (or trying to do so), causes less disturbing waves and water splashes – and if all movements are aligned, it is pretty easy to move forward without swallowing water.

However, the ‘coordination and alignment’ is where we will have to pick up our next lesson. While guiding the girls through the pool, I gave them tips here and there. Whenever it was related to the arms or hands, all leg movements stopped. Same when I was guiding their legs, the arms went to almost standstill.

I hope during the next lesson, the girls will gain the confidence and techniques to be able to swim around the pool without a safety hand. And I hope that we can start with crawl strokes – this will be an interesting challenge, since the girls will have to deliberately put their faces into the water…

Submitted by: Jennifer Joksch

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