Bangladesh is a very flood-prone country and it was evident to me even from my short time there that Bangladeshi life revolves around water – from the submerged rice fields to soaking and stripping jute, a reed used to make baskets, rugs and bags (Bangladesh is the largest exporter of this very versatile material) from the banks of rivers and streams.
Despite this, many children lack even basic water-safety awareness and every year in Bangladesh around 17,000 children die from drowning.
The Swim Safe programme recruits and trains Community Swimming Instructors (CSI) to teach children aged four-10 years survival swimming skills. As well as learning to swim and tread water, children learn how to rescue somebody who is drowning and identify life-threatening water hazards like fast-flowing rivers.
We visited two ponds in the rural Narsingdi region. While it’s only about 30 miles outside of the bustling capital city of Dhaka, it took us about five hours to reach by road – the traffic in Bangladesh was certainly an experience!
The ponds are made safe using specially designed bamboo structures that cost approximately $100 to make. I was told they were so inexpensive because, as is the case with a lot of things in Bangladesh, they use local materials and labour to construct them. When we visited one of the classes taking place, many people from the community had come to watch the children learn and there was plenty of clapping and encouragement as well.
Nargis, a local woman I met in Narsingdi, told me she jumped at the chance to enrol her eight-year-old daughter Anika – who nearly drowned as a younger child – in the Swim Safe programme when it arrived in her village: ‘When Anika was much younger, she fell in the water and was about to die. They took her to the hospital and it’s God’s mercy that she survived, so I did not miss the chance when I was asked if I wanted her to have swimming lessons.
‘She always tells me how much she enjoys swimming and says she can swim faster than anyone else in her class. Now I feel confident that she will not drown – I don’t need to worry about whether she is playing near water.’
Swim Safe’s future
One of the main reasons that International Inspiration is so successful is that it works closely with local in-country partners; in Bangladesh it works with the International Drowning Research Centre (IDRC). We had the opportunity to chat to Dr Aminur Rahman, Director of IDRC Bangladesh about the Swim Safe programme, its successes so far and his hopes for its future – you can watch what he said (and enjoy the beautiful Bangladeshi landscape in the background) in this short International Inspiration Swim Safe video
Excitingly, Swim Safe isn’t the only project currently underway in Bangladesh and there is plenty more work going on around the country. Girls’ empowerment programmes and youth sport leadership programmes are giving young people confidence and recognition within their communities, while at the same time challenging traditional ideas about gender inclusion.
Bangladesh is a beautiful country, bursting with colour and life. International Inspiration’s Swim Safe programme is working to make sure the stunning backdrop of rivers, streams and ponds, that run through the country, can be enjoyed and not feared by its children and communities and remain a source of life and not death.
Find out more about the International Inspiration programme