Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Toa o le Tai (Ocean Heroes)

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on December 7, 2011

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Bruckner Chase last week.

In addition to being a world-class open water swimmer, Bruckner is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect and restore marine areas covering more than 150,000 square miles of ocean. One of those trips took Bruckner to American Samoa, where he felt a deep kinship with the people and committed to create the Bruckner Chase Toa o le Tai (Ocean Heroes) program.

You can read about the program from the Samoan’s point of view here, but let me highlight which aspects of the program I feel will make it a successful program that we should be duplicating in concept in many other locations.

1. Using ‘star quality’ effectively. Bruckner is a respected role-model for the teenagers that are his target audience because of his athletic accomplishments. He has the all-important ‘cool quotient’. We need to identify and leverage more of our aquatic athletes.
2. Genuine love and respect for the island’s people. Respect can’t be faked, so if you don’t feel it, work somewhere else or on something else. Bruckner’s honest respect led to his being named an honorary chief, ‘Uila ole Sami’, with the additional respect and influence that yields in the community.
3. Understanding your target audience. Bruckner and his wife (an accomplished swimmer and academic) understand that teenagers take risks. They also understand that teenagers are most heavily influenced by their peers. Rather than combat these developmental facts, the program leverages them effectively. They identify peer educators – older teenagers that are trained in ocean safety, open water swimming and ocean conservation. These peer educators provide classes and open water experiences that are exciting and risky within sensible parameters. In addition to being more influential with the younger teenage audience, the peer educators have a chance to develop leadership and organizational skills along with respect from their peers and their community.
4. Know the culture. Understanding the local culture is key. What is the chain of command? Who are the influencers? How do you get things done? What components are necessary to have change occur? What does the culture value? Dorothy had it right, ‘we aren’t in Kansas anymore’. What works in one culture may not translate, and could even offend.

Bruckner heads back to American Samoa in January 2012 to launch Toa o le Tai. I look forward to hearing of his success, of which I am confident, and of what didn’t go as planned, so that we can all continue to learn. Ia Manuia Bruckner!

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