I am excited to debut my column by sharing what is happening in the world of swimming safety. I recently read an article on Yahoo (Dec. 24, 2015 edition) – Bangladeshis take plunge in world’s biggest swim lesson.
Even though I have never been to Bangladesh, I have vibrant images, some of which you may say imaginary, of the lay of the land based on what I have heard from my grandpa from his childhood memories. The country is crisscrossed by many rivers and dotted with lakes, ponds and wetlands. Many of my grandpa’s fond memories are linked to swimming, taking boat rides across major rivers, and, of course, the massive monsoon downpours. He would recount in vivid detail how he overcame fear of water by learning to swim in the ponds and eventually graduating to competitive swimming in the lakes. [My grandpa spent his early years in Dhaka, Bangladesh and was an avid swimmer].
With so many water bodies around, one would expect swimming to be part of Bangladeshis’ DNA and drowning a remote national concern. Unfortunately, not so.
According to the recent statistics, around 18,000 children drown each year in Bangladesh, making it the leading cause of death for children 17 years and under. I would not be surprised if the the real number is lot higher. Why does drowning sound like an epidemic? Could it be because a large portion of the population lives either by the sea or major rivers? One of the main modes of transportation is by water, so ferry disasters are very common, as ferries are generally overcrowded and ill equipped with safety gears. Due to living in urbanized settings, people in general lack the knowledge of responding to water calamities. With an upsurge in urbanization and economic constraints, an increasing number of children are not exposed to water due to affordability of swim lesson or safe swimming pools.
The massive and unprecedented swim initiative undertaken by the Bangladeshi government, with support from UNICEF, mandates every school to provide swim lesson to the children between the ages of 5 through 17; this adds up to a staggering 40 Million children, the biggest swim program ever. Initially, until enough pools are built, the schools will be using local ponds and inflatable swimming pools that will be provided by UNICEF.
It’s just the beginning, but I am extremely optimistic and wish this program a huge success. Additionally, I look forward to bringing success stories on this program in the coming days. I am hoping the kids will learn not only to enjoy swimming, but also pick up life-saving skills and practices, and promoting them. What undertaking can be more important than saving lives?
– Meghna Sil