Risking his life to save others


  • Goan youth Rodney Rebello’s unique social service and act of gallantry

""Twenty-eight drowning deaths in the first four months this year and 45 last year have ringed in serious concerns in the western Indian state of Goa in the tourist frequented beach side paradise.


The lack of adequate lifeguards to patrol the beaches have forced many a local to risk their life’s to save people from drowning one such person is Rodney Rebello from Palolem beach in South Goa.


Meet thirty-three old Rodney Rebello from Palolem Canacona a real life hero and an unsung hero of Goa, who has shun all publicity and glare. Rebello, the shack owner of Titantic at Palolem.


The lack of adequate life guards to do duty on the 105 kms coastline has been a cause of concern in the state.


With the tourism department of Goa unable to recruit sufficient number of life guards to Man the beaches, it is left increasingly to volunteers to risk their life’s to rescue drowning persons.


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Rodney Rebello is dressed up to proceed to his friends wedding at Utorda village in south Goa from his beach-side house in Palolem.  As he proceeds to the waiting car, he hears cry of anguish and desperation emanating from the beach, a few metres away from his house. He knows something terrible is wrong.


Without waiting for a second and without battling an eyelid, the young man in his 30’s sheds his formal clothes and runs to the beach. It is a call of the sea, a call, which can change a script from hope to tragedy. He knows that he is the only answer between the pendulum of life and death for the youth struggling for life in the rough sea at Palolem beach in south Goa.


Rebello plunges into the sea to rescue the drowning youngsters. A plunge, to save the life of two youths struggling for life, with death starring at them in their face. A scene, straight from the numerous Hindi Bollywood films but enacted in real life by Rebello. That was two years back.


And he has been doing the gallantry act of rescuing drowning persons at the Palolem beach for the last 13 years.


A lot has changed in the tourism trade in Goa over the last thirteen years. The arrivals of both local and foreign tourists has leaped frocked over the years. (Goa received 3.5 million foreign tourists last season).There has been more restaurants on the beach. But one factor has remained constant – the lack of sufficient life guards on Goan beaches to match the increase inflow of tourists.


Spending his childhood in Palolem, swimming came naturally to Rebello like a duckling to water. He further harnessed his skills while going out to the sea with the big nets of the Ramponkars-the tradition fisherman of Goa.


In spite of the revenue generated from tourism, the tourism department has been unable to provide the state of the art equipment on the beaches. And without any modern gadgets to his aid Rebello relies on the age-old methods of fishermen to conduct his rescue act.


A peculiar scene of rescue act on the Goa beach will take a set course.


Two boys are drowning. Rebello clutches to one of the two and cries for a rope to be brought in the water to tow away the unconscious body. His cries for help are futile, the rope is not available and valuable time is lost in bringing the man on shore. Timely equipment which could have mattered between life and death; He is rushed to hospital and survives.  For the best of his efforts he cannot locate the other swimmer, hours later his dead body is washed ashore. Rebello’s efforts are partly successful.


According to his own account he has saved the life’s of seven people on the beach during the last thirteen years including two foreign tourists. Fate has not been good for some others, where he believes the necessary infrastructure and life rescue equipment could have added to his list of life’s saved, he adds ruefully.


He has however an interesting suggestion up for grabs for the powers at the Tourism Department. He suggests that tourism department train and provide equipment to each of the interested shack owners to make swimming more safe and help in the rescue act.


"A few life guards cannot comb the entire beach and by the time help arrives it is too late" he opines.


Another observation is that it pains him to read in the news papers that when he has been active in rendering help in saving a drowning person, on numerous occasions the tourism department life guards get the credit for rescuing people.


Rebello is used to the current and the behavior of the sea, both in the rainy and non-rainy season and the danger of swimming in certain areas of Palolem beach during low-tide time.


And he too had a brush between life and death while trying to save his friend in the choppy rainy season out in the sea. He saved his friend not before he himself had a few butterflies in his stomach.


Recalling an incident he mentions that both of them had gone swimming and suddenly his friend was taken in by the currents. Twice his friend whom he was trying to save pushed him deeper down the water. He eventually managed to break free from his clutches and then left with no alternative; Rodney gabs a punch on the nose of his friend to make him unconscious, and safely brought him back to the shore.


Although there were other friends swimming in the sea no one knew what was happening. The only word he heard from his friend was a slang word and that he was drowning. The other friends he recollects thought they were playing in the water.


Rodney began his brush with destiny of saving drowning persons for the first time some thirteen years back when he rescued two Indian tourists drowning in the sea. That was the start of the thankless social service. A service, where he has not received any recognition from the government or tourism department of Goa.


He has takes no credit for the task he undertakes risking his own life. He thinks that all human beings are in this world to help each other. The universal message of love and caring towards the fellow being is his greatest unwritten code in life.

Author: Armstrong Vaz- Qatar