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Jun. 22, 2018
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Local boating safety club helps ‘Dunkirk’ PFDs save lives in Congo

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Help can come from the most unusual places. When Eric Ringwall, the current commander of the Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron/Atlanta’s Boating Club, initiated the group’s honorary membership program this year, little did he know he’d be connecting people from around the world in a life-saving mission. 
 
“When I asked Captain Mike England from the Georgia DNR to join us as an honorary member, he took a look at our website and found out about our life jacket program of donating PFDs to workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Ringwall said. “All of a sudden, doors opened, and we were able to put these life jackets to good use on the other side of the world.” 
 
Captain England had accepted the life jackets from a film industry contact in hopes of using them for the statewide SPLASH water-safety program, which was initiated in 2017, but there was a hitch. The PFDs had been used in the blockbuster hit, “Dunkirk,” and they weren’t US Coast Guard approved. “They had been designed to European specifications, so we could not use them domestically. We were told there were about 100 to 150 of them,” he said.
 
As Capt. England learned from the website of America’s Boating Club, the national organization for Atlanta’s Boating Club, the group has been working with the World Health Organization since 2012 to provide life jackets to be used by health workers delivering vaccines to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
 
“Delivering vaccines can be risky because of sudden storms and flooding,” Ringwall said. “Some of the workers don’t know how to swim, so the PDFs would help save lives of the health workers and also expedite delivery of vaccines to the people of the country.”
 
Ringwall connected Capt. England to Karen Welch with the World Health Organization, who enthusiastically agreed to accept the donation. “Karen rented a van and picked up the PFDs, loading what turned out to be 284 life jackets. The donation gave the WHO program a real boost; between 2013 and 2015, they had only collected 50.” 
 
Welch headed to Lake Chad in Africa the following week with five of the PDFs packed in her luggage as a sample of what would be coming once she organized shipment for the rest. “It just goes to show you want can happen when we reach out to our partners in the boating community and join arms to improve boating safety and enjoyment,” Ringwall said. “In this case, not only did we make an impact locally, we connected on a global level.”

Posted online 5/29/18
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