KARACHI: On a Sunday afternoon, gazing over the coast of Hawkes Bay was a family enjoying their trip to the beach.
The fourteen-member group included men, women as well as children. Perturbed with lifeguards continuously warning them about younger children straying into deep water, one woman from the group came forward and insulted one of the guards for simply being too cautious.
Moments later, seething anger turned into forlorn remorse.
Panic struck when the children started being overcome by a strong tide. The cautious advice of the lifeguards had been ignored, leading to a situation of danger.
The lifeguards, forgetting that this very same family had just dished out insults, swiftly dove into the water and rescued the children in a display of years of training.
However, they watched as the family scurried down to their vehicles after the incident and drive off without uttering even a simple thanks.
Over 1,500 volunteers presented themselves in 2004 when Pakistan Aquatic Life Saving (PALS) launched its lifeguard training programme.
“We were under-equipped to cater to such a colossal amount of people,” explained Reza Samad, the president of the non-profit organisation, working to reduce the current statistic of 250 deaths by drowning every year in Karachi.
“In order to minimise casualties to the very maximum, it is essential for lifeguards to be physically fit,” he continued. A total of 250 people eventually qualified to become professional lifeguards.
After persistent efforts to gain financial aid from international lifeguard organisations in countries including Australia and the United States, only instruction manuals were sent across by an organisation in Australia.
Tangible help came in from ‘Surf life’ in New Zealand, when a well-equipped team was flown in order to train local fishermen and other residents who chose to be educated in rescue work. Second-hand equipment, including first aid kits and an IRB boat, were donated to the cause.
Assistance from the corporate sector has always been minimal for PALS, according to Samad. Corporate organisations have refused to provide any sort of long-term developmental sponsorship.
Over the years, PALS has halved the number of drowning cases. However, it is not the only thing that has been reduced. “We have been cut down to 10 men. We might have been down and out but I refuse to let go of the identity that we have created,” continued Samad.
Lending a hand
This year, Aman Foundation started making attempts to strengthen PALS through monetary support as well as providing business vision.
“We are working on a three-year plan to reignite PALS so that they can continue working for their noble cause,” explained Usman Jaffery, a general manager at the foundation.
“Mobile emergency rooms will become available to drowning victims,” Jaffery confirmed. “At spots where they do not exist, death by drowning is inevitable.”
Assistance to PALS is also been given by merging the organisation into a part of an existing extensive social network, based on Aman Foundation’s contacts.
Currently, PALS is coordinating rescue missions with over 200 lifeguards on duty, armed with radio communication devices alongside other necessary tools.
PALS is not only helping save lives but it is also providing a source of income to local fishermen.
“We are providing them with something substantial, in times of recession and ever-growing expenses,” concludes Samad.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.
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