SOS - The YMCA Way

by: Andrew Coakley, Sports Editor

It was just a little over a month ago when the report came out of Nassau that a boy, who was allegedly part of a summer school class drowned while out on a beach picnic with the class.

Not long after that, here in Freeport there was the near drowning of a little girl, who, thankfully, survived the ordeal.

These are just two of the latest incidences in which reports of children drowning has been on the rise. 

Yet, Executive Director for the YMCA, Karon Johnson believes that these incidences can be minimalized, if only more parents and schools would take advantage of the Learn to Swim and SOS programs at the YMCA.

“The Swim for Ocean Survival (SOS) program has literally been a lifesaver for thousands of Bahamian kids,” said Johnson, who herself, was once a very active swimming instructor. 

“The Bahamas is surrounded by the ocean and all Bahamians must have the opportunity to enjoy the water without danger to themselves and the environment.” 

The SOS program has been responsible for not just teaching kids how to swim, but it has extended its reach to teach youngsters how to survive in the ocean.  

The knowledge is also useful if a child accidentally falls into a pool.

The SOS is a Learn to Swim program designed to make learning to swim available to all children, and more importantly, the program is Free.  

“The success of this program can never fully be understood, until the positive effects of it has been touted by the kids themselves, many of whom have constantly talked about the benefits of the SOS program in their lives,” said Johnson. 

“In addition by standardizing the teaching for maximum efficiency and having the YMCA manage the project and train staff, the cost of the SOS program has been reduced to about $1.00 per lesson per child at some pools.”  

According to the YMCA Executive Director, the SOS program has now completed its 4th year totaling more than 18,000 participants from more than 23 schools.  

This year the program commenced in four pools, YMCA, BMES, Sunland and St. Johns.  

In April alone there were 1,945 students who completed the program.  

Participating schools included Freeport Primary, Walter Parker Primary, Tabernacle Baptist, Mary Star, Day Care Kindergarten, Kinder Care, Letty’s Paradise, Freeport Baptist Pre-school, Bahamas Total Education Centre, Hampton House, Dominion Tech and Pace just at the Y.M.C.A. pool.

“This tremendous life-saving program would not have been possible without the kind support of our generous sponsors,” Johnson noted.  “Their combined generosity has made it possible for the program to be Free to all of its participants. 

“One of the unique aspects of the SOS program is the fact that upon starting the program all students are tested and then placed in their respective level, based on their abilities.  

“This allows participants to advance at his or her own speed. 

 “We would like to encourage all school’s grades 4, 5 & 6 to be a part of this program, as we continue our goal of teaching all Bahamian children the basics of surviving in the water.”

However, the SOS and other Learn to Swim Programs would not be effective if the kids do not take part.  There have been instances where a school would take part in the program, but there would be a number of children who are in their school uniforms, watching the other kids swim.

Asked why they were not competing, some of the kids would say because their parents didn’t feel comfortable about them going into a pool or some would use the excuse that they did not have swim wear.

Johnson said that parents can rest assured that once their child goes to the YMCA pool with their school or as a part of the Y’s swimming program, every caution is taken to ensure the safety of every single child entering the pool.

There are trained instructors in the pool at all times and there is never a situation where there are too many kids in the pool at one time. 

“The SOS program and all swimming programs of the YMCA is overseen by some of the best trained instructors and swimmers,” said Johnson.

“We know that parents entrust their kids to us and so we don’t take that lightly. We always, always make sure that kids are kept safe while they are learning how to swim.

“So, unless there is a medical reason, we would like to see all of the kids participate in the program with their respective schools, because I truly believe that this program can be responsible for saving a child’s life.”

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