Adapting the Indigenous Swimming and Water Safety program for COVID-19

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Lesley-Anne pictured in front of a lake.When Lesley-Anne Morley took on leadership of the Indigenous Swimming and Water Safety program for the Canadian Red Cross in 2014, she never imagined that, years later, she would be adapting the program for a global pandemic.

But that’s what she and her team of instructors have been busy doing for the past few months: Taking the program online.

“You can’t teach swimming lessons to someone over a computer,” she says, “so this year we’re doing about 75 per cent first aid and 25 per cent water safety, just because there are more virtual options for the first aid programs.”

In a regular year, instructors travel to First Nations and Métis communities throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario giving swimming, lifeguarding, first aid and other safety courses. With travel off the table this summer, Morley decided to get in touch with the communities to find out if they’d be open to receiving courses online.

Three young students sitting around a computer listening to virtual instructor“There was just an overwhelming yes,” she says. “They told us, ‘We want this type of programming. We need this for our children and youth right now’.”

Because the communities have varied access to technology, delivery methods vary widely as well.
“We’ve got everything from zero-tech options to full-on Zoom calls and virtual courses,” she explains. Her team is customizing programs for each community, depending on the availability of internet and whether small, physically-distanced gatherings are permitted.

One thing that’s helping fill the gaps is the postal service. In some cases, instructors are packing entire courses into a box and sending it off to a community facilitator. In others, the instructor mails the course on a thumb drive and then joins the class by phone.

A visual of the online courseMorley says that this year, the Babysitting and Stay Safe courses are in high demand, the latter aimed at teaching children age nine and up how to manage when home alone.

Where internet is available, some course certifications can still go ahead. For example, a child equipped with diapers, bottles, gloves and a doll can demonstrate his or her babysitting skills to a remote instructor over a Zoom meeting.

She adds that it’s important for her team to continue its work with communities throughout the pandemic to ensure they can work together when it’s all over.

“They recognize that we’ve reached out, that we’ve connected,” she says,“And we think after the pandemic is over, and we can once again do in-person classes, we’re going to be more successful than ever, because swimming lessons will be a really huge part of community recovery, post-COVID.”

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