Making Waves: Hue Help’s Swimming for Safety Programme in Thừa Thiên–Huế Province, Vietnam

In Vietnam, drowning is a major public health problem.

To be specific, it is the leading cause of death for children after infancy, 32 children die from
drowning here every day, which equates to over 11,000 children dying per year1;. In the UK that number is around 50 per year, over two hundred times lower2.

In fact, drowning numbers may even be higher, potentially undetected due to counting
methods. Previous figures are the result of hospital and health facility reports, but most
children who drown are never taken to a health facility because their deaths are immediate,
or because facilities may be located far away from the community. As a consequence,
numbers may have been markedly underreported3

A recent report, conducted by The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) in collaboration with
UNICEF, found that the vast majority of drowning deaths are preventable. These deaths
tend to occur within 20 metres of the home and are the result of unsupervised children
straying and falling into local water hazards4.

Currently, few children in Vietnam learn how to swim and community awareness of water
safety is low. This coupled with abundant drowning hazards (3,200 kilometres of coastline,
and thousands of rivers, lakes and ponds crisscrossing the country) leads to these
depressingly high drowning figures. These drowning hazards are especially prevalent in rural
areas where the majority of deaths occur.

Adequate supervision is one method to ensure that these death rates are reduced; drowning
rates were reduced by more than 80% in village crèches where this was trialled. However,
drowning death rates in children over the age of 4 who participated in swimming and water
safety training were reduced by more than 90%5.

So our brief was clear, to reduce the number of children who suffer injury or fatality through
water‐related incidents by building the capacity of local schools to provide water safety and
rescue skills and swimming tuition, and teach the children through a structured programme.

With this in mind, in 2011 Hue Help’s inaugural rural swimming programme focused on the
Phú Lộc district in the Thừa Thiên–Huế province, an area particularly prone to flooding (in
fact, in one flooding incident in 1999 over 400 people drowned6).

Unlike the city, the countryside lacks the basic infrastructure that makes teaching swimming
a relatively easy task, most importantly; there are no public swimming pools! This means
that we teach the children to swim in open water – rivers, lakes, lagoon and the sea. There
have been numerous successful programmes that have operated internationally in this way
that have been tremendously successful, and we are of course working with our partners to
ensure that the environments are made safe before they are used.

Hue Help believes that success in a child drowning prevention programme requires
collaboration from multiple sectors and it is critical to build the community and government
capacity to implement and monitor drowning prevention programmes in the future.

For this reason during our trial programme in Summer 2011 we partnered with the Thừa
Thiên–Huế Red Cross and with the Phú Lộc Education Affairs Department to assure the
implementation of the programme and to ensure the full support of the local participating
secondary schools. We also organised a swimming training course for Red Cross staff
and swimming teachers with the support and partnership of The Swimming Teacher’s
Association (STA) and the International Federation of Swimming Teachers’ Associations
(IFSTA). This course trained thirty local swimming teachers, who then worked with ten local
secondary schools at ten separate sites. In total, these ten sites taught 1,200 children to
swim over a 2 month period.

By implementing this programme through local schools, and employing community members
as teachers we are helping to build local capacity and community awareness for the
programme and deliver safety messages to parents and other community members.

This year, the Swimming for Safety programme buoyed by the successes of last Summer
aims again to tackle water safety and swimming in local schools. Using the same teachers
as last year and partnering with the Phú Lộc Education Affairs Department and IFSTA / STA,
we hope to teach another 1,200 children water safety and awareness, rescue techniques,
basic survival skills, and of course; swimming.

At the start of the course in 2011 only 2% of the children who took the initial swimming ability
test were able to swim 25 metres. By the end of the final lesson, 71% of the children could
swim 50 metres on their front and 88% of all test participants passed the IFSTA’s Competent
Open Water Swimmer test.

This year, using the feedback and evaluations from the students and teachers, we have
modified the swimming course to ensure maximum effectiveness of the time given with the
hope that even more children learn the basic skills that can help save their own lives and
even the lives of others.

With the programme about to begin any day now, we have just one thing to say: come on in;
the water is fine!

3 Child Drowning: Evidence for a newly recognized cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia
4 Child Drowning: Evidence for a newly recognized cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia
5 Child Drowning: Evidence for a newly recognized cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia