10th Apr 2012
Growing up on a tropical island with bath warm water clear as glass and the nearest beach never being more than a few hundred meters away young people know how to swim. Growing up on an island (a little less tropical) myself I love the sea and do get withdrawals when I don’t see if for a few days. I fish, kayak and spend most of my time on the beach when I am in the Isle of Man (no matter the weather) but I have never been a swimmer. I can get from A to B. I have done various sea swims and challenges such a swimming across a lake on Scout Camporee in Michigan in 2008 and swam across Castletown bay before I left (a school tradition) but let’s face it, I am not a natural when it comes to self propulsion in the water. That is why when I swim in Tuvalu after about the age of 5 the young people can swim better and faster than me. It is just a well then that the new Tuvaluan leaders took charge of the Scouts when it came to teaching them basic life saving.
Being on a tropical island that only pokes above the surface of water a couple of meters at the highest point means that the sea is both a huge asset and a danger. Tuvalu, one of the most remote countries in the world is completely surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. There is an abundance of sea life which supports the lively hood of a huge proportion of the population in work and food and on the other hand there is always the danger of the deep drop off areas (1,000+ a hundred meters from the shore in places) and strong currents and weather patterns that outline how exposed the islands are. For young people growing up with the ocean where ever you look is a fantastic opportunity for fun, adventure and activity. If you want to speak to young people in Tuvalu you head for the beach where you will find them swimming, playing sport, spear fishing (sharpened thin metal bars fired with a piece of heavy duty elastic) or helping their dad unload the boats after a fishing trip. The danger comes from the currents that sweep by Tuvalu and the power of the Pacific side of the island where the ever crashing waves smash against the coral. Although the Pacific side (Funafuti has a lagoon – which provides safer and calmer waters) is very dangerous the reward of bigger fish and shell fish has lead to several tragic deaths in the past of fisherman getting swept out to sea or trapped under waves. That is why the Funafuti Scouts this week concentrated on life saving and rescuing someone in trouble in the water.
The young people had a massive smile on their faces all week in anticipation of the life saving skills and swimming they were going to do in this week’s meeting. We met Scouts in the street who said “Scouts? Tuesday? Swimming?” with a massive cheesy grin.
The Scouts every week meet on the far side of the run way opposite the air port and as the young people arrive the leaders run a few games and activities involving high tempo running around and working together as a team. The unique Tuvaluan opening ceremony is then conducted in a large circle with everyone standing side by side. The meeting is started with a Scout prayer read by one of the Patrol Leaders:
Let us pray...
Thank you for Scouting,
Thank you for the friends we meet, and the people we help,
Thank you for fun and adventure,
Thank you for the skills we are about to learn,
Thank you for helping us work as a team,
Thank you for our communities and young people,
Thank you for our leaders, and their precious time that they are using to help young people.
Help us to do our best.
Help us to always be prepared.
Another patrol leader then says the Scout promise which is repeated by all members present:
I promise to do my best
To do my duty to my God
To serve my country and help other people
And to keep the Scout law
Then the meeting can begin.
The Scouts after being briefed all headed over to the sea on the other side of the island, about a ten minute walk. In patrols they engaged in group discussion about the dangers of the sea what can go wrong and shared stories of Magou (shark) sightings and the one that got away. A demonstration was then shown preformed expertly by Andy Browning (the Damsel in Distress) and the Training Manager in a scene that remotely resembled Bay Watch (I did say remotely). The safety of the rescuer was stressed along with communication and getting help from the shore.
It was the young people’s turn now in pairs the Scouts practiced the manoeuvres and stages of the rescue while the rest of their patrols cheered and laughed in all the excitement.
Although a serious lesson was learnt by the young girls and boys there was always a lot of fun within the meeting, as there always should be so to finish off there was a series of races and mushroom floating competitions (float in with your arms wrapped round your knees and your face under the water to see who can hold their breath the longest.) Last one in a mushroom is the winner!
To end the meeting the Scouts formed the circle again but this time waist deep in the sea for a final debriefing and then time for home.