From water baby to safed machli,Briton becomes India’s first female life guard

A woman as life saving guard on Indian beaches is not a common sight but for this 22-year-old Briton,who chose to be rescue swimmer,it came as a matter of surprise.

Written by Dhanya Nair | Mumbai | Published: January 13, 2009 3:59 am

A woman as life saving guard on Indian beaches is not a common sight but for this 22-year-old Briton,who chose to be rescue swimmer,it came as a matter of surprise. “How can a country as big as India does not have a female life guard?” asked Kerry Blwett after she was offered to become the first female life saving guard on Goa beaches. She added,“When the Goa government told me last week that I was the country’s first female life guard,I was completely taken by surprise. It was a bit too overwhelming for me.”

A certified life guard from the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS),UK,Blwett was in the city on Monday to impart education on life saving,life guarding,water safety and life-support skills. She said,“In a city like Mumbai,which has such a vast coastline and numerous beaches,lifeguards are an integral part of beach security. Also,having women lifeguards will encourage other women to experiment with water sports.” For the past-one-and-half years,Blwett had made Goa her home and has been working since then on the 106-km long Goan coastline which attracts nearly two million tourists every year. The state presently has 149 lifeguards,52 in north Goa and 72 in the south.

For Blwett,the passion for water started early in her childhood. “I stay in a small island in South England. My home was just ten minutes away from the sea. Something about the vast water body intrigued me since I was a child. And I started swimming immediately after I started walking. I was soon known as the “water-baby.” I didn’t realise at that point of time that the tag would stay with me life long,” said Blwett.

From a water-baby to a safed machli (white fish),as she is known in Goa,Blwett did have a tough time convincing people of her abilities. “Initially,no one would take me seriously. They would doubt my abilities. But I let my work speak and soon they realised that I was not lying about my qualifications,” said Blwett.

Confidence,according to Blwett,makes all the difference. “Most of the times,we can be helpless without the necessary equipment,that is when confidence and will power come to your rescue and help you survive in this job,” added Blwett. She feels that youngsters should take this career option seriously. “If you are an outdoor person who loves adventures which also helps you serve society at the same time,then this is the job for you,” said Blwett.

However,she adds life is not all play. “You need to undergo hard core training in water sports. Physical fitness is important in this job. I underwent special training for 5 months before becoming a certified life guard. It is certainly not very easy,” said Blwett.

She has also trained 30 women in Goa for this job. “I loved interacting with women and training them,given an opportunity I will do the same thing in Mumbai too,” Blwett added.

A month ago,the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) suggested deployment of lifeguards on city’s beaches to bring down accidents due to drowning. At present,the civic body is in the process of attracting contractors for lifeguards. “We are open to women life guards,but the problem is how many of them will come forward. Also,we won’t be directly recruiting the lifeguards; the work will be outsourced to an agency. If they have women life guards,then we will definitely deploy them,” said a senior BMC health official. 

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