By Sergio Santi, Past Chair of the International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians
After chartering three fleets of International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians (IYFR) in Africa, I discovered many Africans were drowning in lakes and seawaters. In Kenya, after tourism, fishing is the second economic resource. Thousands of fishermen and families live on the fishing industry. However, from November to April, when the hotels are closed, tourism comes to a halt and there is a greater need to go fishing to survive. But during those months high winds blow from the south and ill-equipped boats or canoes leave fishermen in danger.
In 2012, Lake Victoria, claimed the lives of over 5,000 fishermen due to a lack of lifesaving devices and the local population’s inability to swim.
To address this issue, the IYFR Italian Fleets collected and shipped 4,000 lifejackets to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Ivory Coast. With the support of local Rotary club presidents, jackets were distributed where they were needed most: at schools situated on the coast and river islands where students transfer back and forth from coastal villages and to fisherman who could not afford to buy one locally.
Under the leadership of the 2016 IYFR Chair Jun Avecilla, the Philippines Fleets came up with a home-made lifesaver device made of a plastic net bag with 2-4 empty plastic bottles secured inside. Luigi Apuzzo, the Roma Fleet Commodore, tested and modified this brilliant emergency floating device to create a lifejacket to also be used by fisherman.
By the end of 2016, with the combined efforts and support of IYFR fleets worldwide, a final plan to produce 5,000 life jackets came together. IYFR would not only be providing new lifejackets, but we would have them produced locally. Our young Commodore from Kenya, Simone Avola will provide free spaces for the manufacturing shop and storage in his Barracuda Inn Resort in Watamu. We will be providing 56 local workers with the machinery, the raw material not found locally and the educational training they need to get start.
The project was coming together well, but we had not yet addressed the local population’s inability to swim. Our Roma Fleet Commodore, Luigi Apuzzo, stepped up once again and to address this issue. He coordinated a meeting with the Princess of Monaco, Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer for South Africa, and asked her if she too could lend a hand. She graciously agreed and now we are setting up a swimming school in Watamu that will be frequented by all the children ages 10 to 13.
We hope this initiative will save and improve the lives of Africans while providing the locals an opportunity to earn an income. We invite you to join our efforts. All Rotarians with an active interest in boating are welcome to join a local fleet in their region, or an e-fleet. Learn more on our website and join today to make new friends while taking on service initiatives.
The International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians is the oldest and largest Rotary Fellowship. It began in England in 1947 and has grown to 126 fleets, with about 3685 members in 38 countries. Throughout the month of June, we’ll be celebrating Rotary Fellowships Month by sharing inspirational services stories from various Rotary Fellowships. We hope these stories inspire you to join or start a Rotary Fellowship.