Tuesday, December 11, 2018 Heba Moeen 4 Comments



It seems like I had been on a blogging sabbatical since forever since I couldn't manage time between work and painting and what not. I've been listening to Bee Gees again lately contrary to the preferred noise called music these days. A song by them that has been on my playlist repeat mode is 'You win again' that I have been enjoying with Coco (my feathered lady). And I wonder how apt the lyrics are if you picture a drowning situation and personify the waves:

I'm gonna break down your defenses
One by one
I'm gonna hit you from all sides
Lay your fortress open wide
Nobody stops this body from taking you

A few days ago, we were invited by Pakistan Life Saving Foundation (PALS Rescue) to their Command & Control Center to have us acquainted with their noble cause of providing life saving services along the beaches of Karachi. If you see a lifeguard, that person belongs to this organisation, not to mention that you have to obey him as well. It's quite unfortunate that such a respectable profession is often neglected and not given much heed to.

I am myself not proud of the fact that a few years ago when once or twice I went to the beach amidst the high tides (I remember it was September), I was one of those people who waited for the lifeguard to disappear so that I could go neck deep in the water despite not knowing how to swim ... well, guilty as not charged! "Know your limits and do not cross them. If you do not know how to swim, do not be delusional about it or assume that you can swim," says, Syed Muhammad Ahsan, the jovial Chief Administrator at PALS Rescue who has been associated with this NGO ever since its inception back in 2004 when it was formed out of dire necessity. He had stories to tell, most of them sad because we people don't generally take lifeguards seriously and often end up risking or in extreme cases losing their lives in the monsoon season when they get carried away assuming that they can go far off and not digested by the rough sea. However, fortunately for us, PALS Rescue has been able to bring the drowning rate to near ZERO and till date has saved almost 5,000 lives and conducted over 7,000,000 (7 million) preventive actions.

PALS Rescue is closely associated with Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) that at their inception provided training to 175 lifeguards and continues doing so from time to time. Unlike us, belong to urban chaos or call it urban Heaven, these lifeguards are highly trained and have been friends with the sea since perhaps their infancy, they know how to tame the tides just like a zoo keeper may know how to tame the tiger. However, in both cases you have to know how to read the temperament and body language or the beasts otherwise even the most skilled people may succumb to Darwinism while having their judgement questioned.

The scenic ultramarine blue beach in a picturesque view as seen through the windows of PALS Rescue's Control & Command Center

Chief Administrator, Syed Muhammad Ahsan (Right) along with Patrol Captain, Muhammad Anwar (L)
One of the best things about PALS Rescue is that they employ lifeguards from the local fishermen community that is the best fit for this job and at the same time are provided an alternate means of livelihood when the fishing season is off. More than 250 of them are employed as lifeguards and the number even increases when the demand is high, for instance during the monsoon season when the excitement and beach footfall is uncontrollably high. 

Ahsan told us about the rip current which most were oblivious of. Do you recall the wave that is seemingly calm amidst the furious waves, comes around and then goes all the way back dragging you? That's the murderous rip current. AVOID it at all cost!

We are such a close knit culture, that we even try our best to die together. For example, as also highlighted by the PALS team, entire families or a groups of friends end up drowning together. That's because when one is in trouble and is drowning, the rest of the family members dive in trying to save that one person, thus leading to a chain reaction with all losing their lives one by one. So what do you do when you see someone in trouble at the beach especially if it's the monsoon season?

1. Call the lifeguard nearest you and ask for help knowing that he is an expert.
2. Do not waste time thinking for alternate options and because the response time is 3 minutes.
3. Do not think you are a mermaid and who will save that person and avoid diving in yourself if you are not a swimmer.
4. Pray to God for the life of that person who is being rescued and that of the lifeguard's who is risking his own life to safe him/her.
5. Once the drowning victim is out, let the lifeguard perform CPR so as to stabilise that person and then take that him/her to the nearest hospital.

It is of utmost importance that you do not opt for a beach spot that is completely deserted just for the sake of privacy because in case you need help, there will be no one to hear you. 

PALS store room fully equipped with life saving equipment
After a thorough briefing by Ahsan and the Patrol Captain, Muhammad Anwar, a life saving scene was re-enacted by the PALS boys that has been shot and shared by Brandsynario

Now there are quite a number of challenges that this organisation faces, first of all, corporate sponsorships are slowing moving and the government is looked forward to for grants but there's no genie in a bottle floating above the sea that would help manage finances in a nick of time! It really is a hassle and rather a full time job collecting donations because an NGO like this has to pay its lifeguards in a timely manner. Secondly, these lifeguards who are earning by the sweat of their brow are often given a cold shoulder when they try to tell people about about which beach spot is safe or not, some are known to have been physically assaulted by both men and women.

Consider the situation below that is based on actual events: 

Pardon my ignorance, I can only write in Urdu and can't type it.

Ghulam Mustafa a.k.a GM lifeguard trainer & instructor briefing the audience about life saving and emphasising upon avoiding plastic waste

Lifeguards during their demonstration

PALS Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB)
It wasn't all serious talk only, PALS Rescue also manages adventure trips through its sister concern called PALS Outdoors because this helps them cross subsidize revenue to milk their NGO despite which the cost constraint is usually there to run the entire system. PALS very generously took us for some water sports including snorkelling, wake tubing, and swimming and were there all the way with us soaking in our limitless excitement. This trip really squeezed out the fear of swimming from most of us because we knew now matter what, PALS trained lifeguards are here to take care of us. 

Usually people drown when they start panicking and make their bodies stiff; even while you are wearing a life jacket, you have to let yourself go and give in to the sea simply by relaxing and enjoying the solitude (well you are not alone actually but you can swim away until a lifeguards comes to pull you back). 

The pictures below are by PALS Outdoors unless otherwise stated: 

Zainab under water and she knows how to swim!!!
Fursid acting cool under water while saluting his own fear :P

 For such activities you should consider the following:

1. Do not wear jeans!
I am talking from experience, modesty can be addresses in other ways and other materials, when I came out of the water and tried climbing the boat staircase, I felt the ghost of Long John Silver (remember Treasure Island?) pulling me down but I had to fight him off.

2. Wear a sun block if you are beauty conscious ...
Honestly, I don't care, the tan is worth all the enjoyment. Besides, sun screens are known to cause damage to marine life.

3. Make sure your life jacket is worn and fastened properly.
It shouldn't be lose, else you will feel it's grabbing your throat and suffocating you.

4. Be the last one to come out of the water and enjoy! WOOHOO!

Our lively group of bloggers

We found TWINS!!! (Selfie Credit: Aly Balagamwala a.k.a Disco Maulvi)

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  1. Fun read! Though I do think it's important to wear sunscreen other than just for cosmetic reasons - protection from the sun rays, which can apparently give you cancer. Then again, so can the cream.... Ah, never mind.
    Thanks for the invite, Hiba :) And keep up the great work, PALS!

    1. It was probably my way of consoling myself as I ran out of sunscreen haha! Anyway, PALS Rescue is contributing genuinely for a cause that I want to go an extra mile and work for. And at the same time, self control is crucial at the beaches.

  2. Such a well written blog. And it's lovely to see that an organization like PALS exists.