One child drowns every 45 seconds in Asia. For Vietnam, the estimated daily death rate sits anywhere between 10 and 32 children a day, making drowning one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 10; for the under fives, almost 90 percent of drownings take place within 100 metres of their homes.
"I went to a spring with my friends but I did not know how to swim. An accident happened when I stepped suddenly into deep water. I tried to escape by struggling with my effort. However, it did not work in that way. What I did at that time was I remembered what I learned from the swimming training which was run by Swim Vietnam; I kept calm and I floated, and thanks to that, I saved my own life".
-- Duc, aged 12, who took part in a Swim Vietnam beach and water awareness course
Reading statistics like these led Scot Jo Stewart to trade her Singapore city job for the opportunity to help set up the charity Swim Vietnam in Hoi An. She came armed with enthusiasm, the phone number of a contact from the Hoi An Tourism Department and plans of a three- to six-month stint to set the programme up (all you need is teachers, kids and a borrowed pool or two – right?)... That was in 2008. Five years, five Swim Vietnam swim schools in three districts and three pools later, Swim Vietnam have successfully trained more than 120 adults to become swim instructors and more than 5,500 children to swim.
With Vietnam’s geography of river networks and long coastline it’s no surprise that the drowning toll is so high. Add to that a low-lying rural landscape susceptible to massive flash floods, and the need for charities like Swim Vietnam, which work with the government on drowning prevention, becomes very apparent.
Swim Vietnam's mission statement is “to reduce the incidence of drowning in Vietnam by providing high quality swim coaching to Vietnamese children; to teach them basic water safety techniques that could help save their lives and to promote general water safety issues in Vietnam;to give local people the required skills to teach swimming and water safety." Their long-term goal is to help the government provide access to swimming lessons for all primary school children.
They teamed up with AUSTSWIM, Australia’s national organisation of swim teachers, to train local instructors to an international level. The Hoi An education department helped raise awareness of the project in local schools and volunteers from around the globe trickled in to help.
Jo Stewart is still with the charity, helping to push forward, raise funds and increase the outreach of Swim Vietnam. For kids who live in areas too far from their provincial centres (like Duc) they have trained instructors who go out to run lifesaving classes. A US$15 donation puts one child through their entire programme, which teaches them swimming and lifesaving techniques that could save their own lives or the lives of others.
* Photos courtesy Swim Vietnam.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 23rd September, 2016.