ILS representative visits child survival swimming programme in Bangladesh

November in Bangladesh brings relief from the stifling heat and humidity as the weather mercifully cools in the lead up to winter.

November in Bangladesh brings relief from the stifling heat and humidity as the weather mercifully cools in the lead up to winter.

Yet Dr. Aminur Rahman, technical director of the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) and member of International Life Saving’s Drowning Research Committee was one of the few that was hoping the heat would hold up for just a few more weeks as Dr. Zaid Abdullah Chelvaraj, MD, member of ILS’s Child Drowning Committee and deputy president of the Life Saving Society of Malaysia was set to visit Bangladesh to see the first ever child survival swimming skills programme the developing world has ever seen.

The reality of survival swimming classes in rural Bangladesh has only been made possible through the implementation of the Prevention of Child Injury through Social-intervention and Education (PRECISE) programme.

The programme, designed and implemented by CIPRB with the support of UNICEF, Bangladesh and The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) consists of a package of interventions which cover three focus areas; community, home and school.

One of the key community intervention activities is the survival swimming lessons called the Water Safety Programme, taught to children between the ages of four to ten years old. ILS, through its member Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) provided technical support during the design and set up of the programme.

To date the programme has taught more than 27,000 children in Bangladesh how to swim. While common in the developed world, the concept of conducting swimming lessons in a developing country was completely foreign to rural Bangladesh.

The swimming lessons still draw a crowd of village community members who watch on as the children learn how to glide, float and kick through the water.

The interest from the community members of Chanandpur village, in Monahardi Upazila on a clear, warm day in mid-November was even greater as Dr. Zaid and his wife, Dr. Zaliha Omar, watched on as one of the first lessons of the day commenced.

“After their warm up session, which was led by one of the children in the class with help from the instructor, they all filed in an orderly fashion and crossed the road to the pool. The instructor had a very professional command of the children, said Dr. Zaid.

“It was amazing to see how this programme uses local resources. The lessons are taught in the local village ponds using bamboo to replicate a swimming pool structure. It’s quite extraordinary and inspiring to watch.

“Bangladesh, like Malaysia, lacks awareness of the importance of water safety and survival swimming skills. This programme has implications for other developing countries where child drowning is prevalent.

Dr. Zaid also visited one of the crèches where he watched the children entertain themselves singing and dancing with the guidance of a crèche mother. The crèche programme is another activity CIPRB implements, which further widens the safety net against child drowning by providing a safe, nurturing environment for children from the age of one up to five years old. Lack of adult supervision is the main cause of drowning between these ages.

“The programme not only teaches children how to swim but further compounds the sense of community in the village. You can see this through the number of volunteers emerging to offer their time to teach the children how to swim. Feedback from community members is that they want to see more swimming lessons set up. It was fantastic to be able to share this programme with Dr. Zaid and anyone else from ILS is more than welcome! said Dr. Aminur.

Story and photo by RLSS Youth Ambassador in Bangladesh, Stephanie Ryan