Teaching young people how to stay safe in and around our rivers is the key to preventing tragic drownings involving our inland waterways, says Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education Centre (TOPEC) director Steve Ralph.
On average, 48 people drown in New Zealand rivers every year, and about a fifth of those are aged under 18.
"It's important we catch the younger age group and make sure they understand the key messages: if in doubt stay out; know your limits; be prepared; know your river; look out for your mates and stay safe," says Steve.
“Be River Safe has a classroom teaching component but the real learning begins when the children get out on the water.
"The kids can have a go in a raft, jump off and climb back in. It's a fun experience for them, and means they are more likely to understand and remember the skills they have been taught. Even the students who are less confident in the water get stuck in and have a blast.”
Recently TOPEC was able to replace its inflatable white water raft with a grant from the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund. “It's given the River Safe programme a big boost,” Steve says.
"Grants like this are hugely important to us. We are a charitable trust and our mission is to deliver high-quality outdoor education at a low cost.
“One of the centre's old rafts used for the programme had worn out and if TOPEC had been forced to recoup the cost of a new raft by increasing its fees, many local schools could not afford to take part in the River Safe programme and then the students miss out.”
Steve says River Safe really is preparing the region's young people for life. "Everybody uses our rivers whether it's for travel, fishing, recreation or industry and we need to make sure people can keep themselves and others safe."
Each year, the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund helps up to 300 groups in New Zealand, supporting community initiatives through grants to charities and educational groups, sports clubs, and local emergency services.
“It is our way of saying thank you to everyone who works so hard to make our communities great,” says Fonterra’s Global Sponsorship Manager Kane Silcock. “We love to support projects that make New Zealand a better, safer place to be, especially for our children.”