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ILLINOIS — Lou Ann McCracken, a natural resources specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi River Project, presents water safety information to local refugees, educating them on hidden dangers in the river.

ILLINOIS — Lou Ann McCracken, a natural resources specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi River Project, presents water safety information to local refugees, educating them on hidden dangers in the river. (Photo by Hilary Markin)

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Posted 3/19/2012

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By Hilary Markin
Rock Island District


ILLINOIS — The drowning of an African immigrant last summer on the Mississippi River resulted in a request for African language water safety information that will help prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The 11-year-old boy was from Burundi, Africa. He moved to the U.S. four years ago and to the Quad Cities two years ago. The Church of Peace in Rock Island, Ill., and the Community Resource and Learning Center of Moline, Ill., work with refugees to educate, train and prepare them for new lives in local communities. After the drowning, these organizations contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District to provide water safety programs to teach immigrants how to stay safe while enjoying recreation in or near the water in America.

This information program presented challenges in both culture and language.

A significant number of immigrants are from regions of the world where the lakes and rivers are shallow and offer little or no current. They are unaware of the dangers of the Mississippi River, like strong currents, locks and dams, wing dams and snags.

In this particular program, the refugees are from five countries with eight different languages spoken including Thai, Burmese, Karen, Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, Togolese and one tribal language. This created a communication challenge for the park rangers in preparing and presenting the programs.

"We found that the programs were more successful by creating presentations with some key word translations and having a native translator on site to communicate our water safety message in their language," said Lou Ann McCracken, a natural resources specialist with the Mississippi River Project.

"The Mississippi River Project Office and the Mississippi River Visitor Center take water safety very seriously," McCracken said.

"We're always looking to expand our water safety education to as many individuals as we're capable of reaching. If even one life is saved because of these efforts, then our water safety mission is a success."

Find out more about the National Water Safety Program.