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17205: (Hermantin) Sun-Sentinel-Strokes (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>


By Evelyn Knowles
Special Correspondent

November 9, 2003

Cap Haitien, Haiti  Jerome, 11, had never been in a swimming pool before.
The closest he had come to a swimming lesson was being tossed by
well-meaning parents into the dirty river that traverses this city.

But thanks to Fort Lauderdale's International Swimming Hall of Fame and the
Cap Haitien Sister City Program, he and 550 other young Haitians got their
first real swimming lesson in a rarely used hotel pool.

"The goal of the project is to find a way to reduce the number of child
drownings in Cap Haitien," said John Fletemeyer, vice chairman of the
Swimming Hall of Fame, who led a contingency of water safety specialists,
swim instructors and Creole interpreters to Haiti from Oct. 12 to 16.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, can't afford the
luxury of swimming lessons. And the high cost of fresh water in Haiti makes
filling up swimming pools expensive, Fletemeyer said.

Fear of the water is another reason Haitians don't learn to swim, according
to Eddy Remy, chairman of the new Cap Haitien Sister City Program in Fort

"Parents who may have been taught by their parents to fear water have passed
their fear to their children," he said. "This can become a very dangerous
cycle where kids do not go into the water due to fear and parental

"Oui, j'aime nager [Yes, I love to swim]," said Vanise, who at age 12 also
had her first pool experience and swimming lesson. She said she wanted to
continue taking lessons and wasn't afraid of the water.

The children reacted enthusiastically to the lesson because of its novelty
and the time off it gave them from school, said Nicole Etienne, a
first-grade teacher at Ecole Notre Dame de la Medialle Miraculeuse.

Etienne stood poolside and watched her students receive instructions on
everything from the flutter kick to holding their breath under water.

"This is such a courageous initiative. We have no one here to teach them
this," said Etienne, who makes the equivalent of $350 U.S. dollars a year.
"My wish is that Cap Haitien would one day get an Olympic-size swimming pool
with instructors."

The swim instructors from Broward and Palm Beach counties tried to teach
basic swimming techniques through mime and a Haitian interpreter speaking
Creole. Few of the children had been in a pool before.

"It's been the most rewarding experience of my 20 years of teaching," said
Lee Pitts of Tamarac, the lead swim instructor.

Pitts, who is also the swim instructor for the Haitian Center for Family
Services in West Palm Beach, was amazed at how quickly the Cap Haitien
children caught on despite lessons given via sign language and an
interpreter in a substandard swimming pool.

In addition to the lessons, about 8,000 swimming instruction booklets
written in Creole were distributed to schoolchildren.

Meanwhile, water safety instructors from Florida taught rescue and safety
procedures to 32 Haitian firefighters.

Just west of Cap Haitien, Eric Jersted of Fort Lauderdale's Ocean Rescue
inspected Beck's Beach and the nearby reef for hazards and marine life and
demonstrated the sidestroke for towing a victim.

"We took three of them snorkeling for the first time. They had never seen
the reef before," Jersted said.

Wilfrid Jean, a church volunteer who teaches children ages 10 to 15 how to
swim, watched the Floridians hoping to learn something.

"I love this a lot. It's very important. I would like to see Haiti, maybe in
five years, have swimmers on their Olympic team," said Jean, 32, of Cap

Later, the firefighters, who also make up Cap Haitien's police force, ran
into the water with flotation devices as the Floridians mimed instructions
and the interpreter translated their words.

Nadele Bernardin, 27, the only woman in the department, said she was afraid
to swim before starting the program.

"Yes, I find it hard but I find it fun. I want to continue learning to
swim," said Bernardin, who nets less than $100 a month and lives with her
parents and five siblings.

Herode Zephirin, 25, said he learned to swim when he was 20.

"I am not finding this too difficult but it's not as much time as we would
like learning victim rescue," he said.

Next month, three Haitian firefighters who participated in the training
program will come to Fort Lauderdale for more lessons, Fletemeyer said.

"We'd like to go back in the spring with the goal of teaching a core group
of Haitians swim and water safety instruction so they can take over the
teaching," he said. On the next trip, Fletemeyer also hopes to donate
defibrillators, which restart the heart with electric shock, and instruct in
their use, plus give lessons in CPR.

Remy said his goal for Fort Lauderdale's newest sister city is economic

"If people are able to have jobs, less and less Haitians would risk their
lives on the ocean in rickety boats to come to Florida."
Copyright  2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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