At only 10, Philippe Uwizeyimana knew he was the only saviour to a drowning man in the deep waters of Lake Kivu. “I had to choose between life and death but my conscience could not rest when I saw a man fight for his life in the water. I quickly dived in and luckily I saved him,” says Uwizeyimana.
Uwizeyimana earns his living as a Life Guard, a job he has done for more than 15years. Born on the shores of Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, at an early age he realised the need for life guards around the lake. He willingly started the life risking job of rescuing drowning souls around the lake.
According to Uwizeyimana, being a life guard has never been easy since it is a matter of life and death.
“Rescuing a dead person is simpler than rescuing someone who is alive, there is a chance of losing your own life if the person you are rescuing overpowers you,” he explained.
In society today, for some reason, life guards have been regarded as suicidal yet their job is one that cannot be done away with. As compared to other offshore jobs, being a life guard is both challenging and demanding.
According to Aimable Kizito another life guard based at La Palisse Hotel and a coach for the swimming club, ‘Club les Dauphins’, this occupation requires a lot of training in order to become an expert life guard.
“Rescuing drowning people requires more than education, he said, “it demands more experience, dedication and love for what you do.”
Having done his first life saving debut in 1976 at the youthful age of 15, Kizito guarantees that nothing compares to this first time experience, however daily practice is what makes life guards professional.
Causes of drowning
“Knowing and being able to identify the causes of drowning is what makes a good life guard,” says Andrew Safari, a professional swimmer.
Safari says that experienced life guards are people who relate drowning to accidents that can happen to anyone.
“It does not matter whether someone is a perfect swimmer or not, anyone can lose their lives while in lakes or swimming pools,” Kizito warned.
Unnecessary pride among the youth who claim to be good swimmers has been noted as the most infamous cause of drowning. An example is the recent case of a teenage girl who died in Lake Muhazi during a swimming escapade after sneaking out of school.
According to Kizito, other causes of drowning are diseases like heart failure and blood pressure among swimmers. Young children too are not spared. They have fallen victim because of their playful nature while swimming. He said that when anything happens, their voices are too little to be heard when they shout for help.
Kizito, emphasizes that it is a life guards sole responsibility to make sure that their clients do fitness exercise before they start swimming. These exercises improve blood flow as well as prepare the body for swimming.
“Exercises are a vital remedy for effective swimming.”
A life guards eyes are always restless as they systematically rove about the swimming pool looking out for the unexpected.
Kizito gives us the procedure of life saving based on his experience and the many international trainings he has attended.
“Avoid diving into the water when the victim is seeing you so that they do not panic,” he said.
Just like the proverb, ‘a drowning man will clutch at a straw,’ when a person is drowning they will always grasp at anything within their reach.
The next step requires fast thinking on how to retrieve the person depending on their situation. “Different techniques are applied depending on whether the drowning person is a good swimmer or not,” he explains.
After the rescue, the victim is given first aid. The most efficient being the ‘Kiss of Life’ which adds oxygen to the victim’s lungs and also helps to get rid of the swallowed water.
Enjoying the benefits
At 48 years, Kizito looks muscular and firm and he credits his well built body to his job.
Since rescuing drowning people involves swimming and routine exercises on a daily basis, it is a solution to many diseases especially those brought about by old age.
“Doctors often prescribe swimming for people with backache and muscular problems. Life guards who swim on a daily basis, are always physically fit and healthy,” said Isaiah Nkurikiyinzira another swimmer.
Though rescuing people’s lives in water is very necessary, Rwanda does not have any Life Guard schools that specialize in this profession.
“There is an urgent need for life saving schools since swimming pools and new hotels are coming up daily ,” said Benjamin Mumo a Hotel Manager at La Palisse Hotel.