Med­i­cal ben­e­fits seen in chilly dips

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

An ac­ci­dent in which five boys drowned in Nan­ning, Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, has had pos­i­tive reper­cus­sions: it has led to other lives be­ing saved by a group of life guards set up in the af­ter­math of the tragedy.

Local swim­mers can al­ways be seen in Yongjiang River, and some work as vol­un­teer life guards to pre­vent even more tragedies.

Guo Huiren, 62, a win­ter swim­mer, is one of the vol­un­teer life­guards, and he says he has saved many lives in the city’s so-called mother river.

How­ever, the end­ings have not all been so for­tu­nate, and one day he says he will never for­get is July 13, 2010, when the five boys, two of them twins, drowned while swim­ming in the river in south­ern Nan­ning.

Guo and friends from the local win­ter-swim­ming club set up the vol­un­teer life­guard ser­vice three days af­ter the deaths.

It was at that time, too, when Guo, with other swim­mers, set up the Guangxi Red Cross LifeSaving Vol­un­teer Team on the banks of the Yongjiang. Ini­tially it had 10 mem­bers, and to­day has more than 70, mostly re­tirees in their 60s.

“All the life­guards are vol­un­teers, and we’re all ex­pe­ri­enced swim­mers,” says Ou Jian, the team cap­tain. “Ten of us have re­ceived life­guard cer­tifi­cates from the local govern­ment. Al­most ev­ery­one on the team has saved peo­ple more than once.”

Guo, one of its most skilled swim­mers, has res­cued about 30 peo­ple. How­ever, this dates back to be­fore the group started; he says his first was in 1983, when he helped save a woman who tried to kill her­self by jump­ing into the river.

Most in­ci­dents in­volve young peo­ple or those un­fa­mil­iar with the river and its cur­rents, he says.

“The deep­est part of the swim­ming area in Yongjiang River is more than 20 me­ters, but near the river­bank it is only 1 me­ter. This means it is very dan­ger­ous for the unini­ti­ated, who swim too near un­der­cur­rents, get pulled out and sud­denly find they don’t have the strength to swim back to the bank.”

Vol­un­teers keep watch dur­ing the day and late into the evening, when swim­ming be­comes even more haz­ardous.

Guo says the team re­ceives no fi­nan­cial sup­port from the local govern­ment or any busi­ness; mem­bers raise their own funds. The in­clu­sion of the Red Cross in its name is unof­fi­cial, and it re­ceives no fi­nan­cial sup­port from the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion, he says.

“Our group is run in­de­pen­dently, but we are ver­i­fied by the Red Cross and it has given us a lot of sup­port, such as of­fer­ing train­ing pro­grams (for vol­un­teers).

“We have no fig­ures on the num­ber of peo­ple we have res­cued,” Ou says, “but we’re ready to give a hand when­ever any­one needs help.”

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing a life­guard ser­vice, the team also pro­motes safety aware­ness. Mem­bers or­ga­nize free lessons on the river­bank for young peo­ple to learn first aid, and go into schools and com­mu­nity cen­ters to of­fer ad­vice on how to stay safe in and around wa­ter­ways.

Most lo­cals who swim in the river now of­ten use flota­tion de­vices, such as lifebuoys, Guo says.

“We call them taga­longs. If the swim­mers en­counter a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion a taga­long can help them sur­vive it. We teach peo­ple use­ful tricks like this, and more im­por­tantly we teach them not to panic, stay calm and main­tain the cor­rect po­si­tion if they are in dan­ger.”

Con­tact the writer at renqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

REN QI / CHINA DAILY

Guo Huiren (cen­ter) and his peers work as vol­un­teer life guards in the Yongjiang River. The group is run in­de­pen­dently, but has links with the Red Cross.

HUO YAN / CHINA DAILY

Mem­bers of the vol­un­teer life­guard group are from a local win­ter-swim­ming club.

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