Australian Bangladeshi partnership to help save children from drowning

Dr Justin Lee speaking

Australian High Commissioner Dr Justin Lee speaking at the opening of the Training of Trainers SwimSafe Programme

By Peter Varley,  CIPRB, Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh, September 6, 2009 -  An international drowning prevention partnership between The Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) and the Royal life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) was launched on September 6 at the Bangladesh Swimming Federation.

Named the Training of Trainers SwimSafe Programme, the four day event will see two Australians from RLSSA, Mr Jeff Moss and Mr Jason Phillips, up-skill 30 senior Bangladeshi swimming instructors in a variety of coaching methods for children, as well as survival swimming, rescue and resuscitation techniques.

Senior instructors, or Master Trainers as they are also called, are a vital component of CIPRB’s SwimSafe programme, an innovative survival swimming course created to reduce the high instances of childhood drowning in Bangladesh.

“They are the engine of the programme,” Mr Moss said.

The techniques they learn over the four days will be used to train Community Swimming Instructors (CSIs) who in turn will teach children in predominately rural areas essential survival swimming skills and water safety knowledge.

Mr Phillips, who came to Dhaka three years ago to run the first Training of Trainers programme, was so impressed with the Master Trainers he would like to take them to Australia to run some of their swimming programmes.

Dr Justin Lee watching the training

Australian High Commissioner Dr Justin Lee watching the training programme

“They would pick it up very quickly,” Mr Philips said.

Funded by the Australian Government’s Sports Outreach Programme, the event was launched by the Australian High Commissioner, Dr Justin Lee and CIPRB’s Executive Director, Dr AKM Fazlur Rahman.

“Bangladeshi life revolves around water yet many children lack even basic water safety awareness, and it’s proving to be fatal,” Dr Fazlur Rahman said.

“Every 31 minutes a Bangladeshi child dies, not from malnutrition, not from disease but from drowning. Teaching someone to swim is in essence a vaccine against drowning,” he said.

Dr Lee said Bangladesh and Australia are both similar in regards to their relationship to the water and it’s tragic to lose a happy, healthy child to drowning.

He also said he looked forward to continuing the drowning prevention partnership between Australian and Bangladesh.

SwimSafe Program

In 2005, the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey identified drowning as the leading cause of death in children under 18 year; around 17,000 a year. To reduce these figures, CIPRB in collaboration with UNICEF, Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) initiated PRECISE, a community-based child injury prevention programme. One of the most important components of PRECISE is the SwimSafe programme which was developed with assistance from RLSSA and the Bangladesh Swimming Federal.

“Through a 21-step process, children are taught to be confidant in the water, to develop skills in swimming and floating and how to rescue somebody who is drowning. They are also taught to identify life-threatening water hazards,” Dr Rahman said.

In rural areas, classes are held in local ponds which are cordoned-off using specially designed bamboo structures. Inexpensive to construct and using local materials and labour, the structures mimic the boundaries of a swimming pool and have two sections: a shallow, fenced-off platform used while the children gain confidence in the water, and a surrounding deeper section, approx. 12.5 metres across and also with a perimeter fence, which is used to expand on the students skills as well as test their swimming and floating abilities.

The ponds are also chosen in relation to their close proximity to schools, health centers and other areas frequented by the community to encourage local interest in the project.

The CSIs build upon this exposure by delivering water safety messages direct to community members, school groups and at community events. The students themselves often become ambassadors for water safety, eager to pass on what they have learnt to their friends and family.

To graduate from the course, a child must prove they can swim unassisted in open water for at least 25 meters and tread water for 90secs. This benchmark is both consistent with international early swimming standards and relevant to Bangladesh environment.

To date the programme has taught more than 30,000 children in Bangladesh and no graduate has drowned since the programme’s inception.

In 2009, CIPRB aims to increase this figure to 50,000 children.

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Preventing child drowning in Asia through teaching survival swimming skills

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