Getting kids to fall in love with water – in one day

Amilile Njokweni, 12, and Rose Hill Julius, 14, from Prestwich Primary School learns to sail with the Little Optimist Sailing Academy at Battery Park in the Waterfront.

Pupils from Prestwich Primary School, some of who had never had the opportunity to be on the water, have overcome their fears through a one-day course by The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, located at the Waterfront’s Battery Park.

On Tuesday August 1, Grade 6 pupils completed a simple sailing course, and were managing their own little boats in pairs on the canal at Battery Park, through the Sailing Through Life Programme, which aims to get children to fall in love with water, teach them critical life skills and technical sailing skills.

The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, founded by Greg Bertish, has supported 463 children via the programme, since opening at Battery Park in April last year.

The Little Optimist Trust founder, Greg Bertish, with Waterfront spokesperson, Donald Kau. Behind them is the boat donated by the Waterfront.

The V&A Waterfront had sponsored the addition of a sailing boat for The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, worth R50 000 to expand the opportunity, so that children can experience the benefits of sailing and learning about the water, said Waterfront spokesperson, Donald Kau.

“We are proud to have partnered with The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, giving the children a safe space to tackle exciting and new challenges that are also fun experiences, right in the heart of the city.

“The academy instils hope and helps the children deal with their emotions as they tackle the ebb and flow of the waves. The sponsorship expands the programme to more communities to experience sailing on the waterfront canals safely.”

Mahdi Samodien, the principal of Prestwich Primary, said the pupils joined the programme as part of the school’s waterwise programme, where they teach children how to swim at the pool or at the ocean at Sea Point. “We teach them skills in dealing with water to get them to swim, but also managing currents and safety in the water.”

The school had then partnered with The Little Optimist Sailing Academy, taking the children on another phase of the waterwise project, said Mr Samodien. “Most of them haven’t had an opportunity to be on the water and this is an amazing experience. Within an hour they learn to manage their own boat. One can only imagine the little seed that you plant within them.”

Little Optimist Trust founder Greg Bertish, left and sailing instructor Amir Yaghya, right, gives Likhona Qwete, 12, from Prestwich Primary School a medal, sailing certificate and a teddy bear.

Mr Bertish said with the one-day programme, the sailing instructors give the children life jackets, give them a crash course and make them feel very safe. “Each child got into the water and at the end, we couldn’t even get them out.”

Iva Lali, 12, learns how to tie a knot.

He said after being on the water, each child goes to the academy classroom where they learn knot-tying, and then they receive a certificate, a donated medal, and a teddy bear that they get to take home. “A lot of them don’t believe they get to take the gifts home with them… and it’s huge for them.”

He said in South Africa, children have little affiliation with the ocean. “They don’t want to go to it, their parents never went, so they don’t get taken there and they are scared.

“We change that in one day. We allow kids to come here and fall in love with the ocean for one day. If you get kids to fall in love with the ocean, you can teach them about the ocean, they want to learn about it and they want to protect it and they want to know the safety around it.”

He said the next phase was to find funding for an eight-day course, where pupils will learn more sailing skills and more about water and pollution, and they get to visit boat-building factories to show them the industry.

He said children who come through the programme often go on to train further and they are sponsored, through the academy, for courses in the boat-building industry. “They can do the training phase and then they can go into any space with their certificate and they will have skills and qualification to work in the ocean industry. ”It opens up a world of possibilities.“

He said Prestwich Primary School will be used as a pilot for the eight-day programme once they receive funding.

Mr Kau said with the Two Oceans Aquarium being the biggest attraction in the Waterfront, the education programmes they have, along with The Little Optimist Sailing Academy and the boat-building industry in the harbour at the precinct, could open many opportunities for growth and success, as in addition to the safety aspect.

Joshio Fisher, head of the Marina and canal manager at the Waterfront, said South Africa has the second largest boat producers in the world, and with the Waterfront having an active harbour and a marina filled with catamarans built by South Africans, he said this is a big market that is well-supported by the Waterfront, and “we will love to see the youth getting involved in this industry.”