I was captivated by Bangladesh soon after arriving in the country, one sultry summer evening last year. It was my first visit; to help out with the SwimSafe schemes run by the CIPRB (Centre for Injury and Prevention, Bangladesh.) I spent a week at a place called Sreepur Village, north of the capital, which is a British run charity helping women get back on their feet following some trauma in their lives. My first impression of the country was one of richness, colour, a young and vibrant history, and a people proud of their nation. The sights and sounds of the city and countryside a riot for the senses. I was intrigued and fascinated and wanted to return and see more following that initial trip. And most of all I wanted to do more to raise awareness of the dreadful statistic that around 50 children die in Bangladesh every day in the water. I wanted to do something somehow for the people of a country I had great respect for.
I can’t even remember not being able to swim. I had lessons at school and my father would often take me and my brother to the pool. We were fortunate we had good facilities at hand. Today in London alone there are close to 200 public swimming pools. So is it all just down to money? In my opinion not so. A recent report showed that one in three children in the UK are reaching high school without the swimming skills expected for their age. Of course hard cash does make a difference. The CIPRB could not run their schemes for example without some kind of financial backing, hence why I raised money doing my Bangla Channel swim for the organisation.
However I think educating people on the importance of being able to swim is as equally important as throwing money at it – in any country. When I first spoke to the media in Bangladesh ahead of my big swim last month, I was surprised to learn many people had little idea drowning was such a tragic issue in the country. It should be a talking point. If 50 children died in a bus crash one day, it would be all over the news. But day after day young lives are being needlessly lost. Swimming is a life saving skill that everyone has the right to know and it doesn’t take too many lessons to achieve this. Under the CIPRB scheme it only takes around 2 weeks for a child to learn enough to have a better chance of survival if they find themselves in danger in the water. Resources are stretched in many societies. However if parents and those in positions of authority concerning children are given the right guidance and information, they can help to ensure there is greater access to swimming lessons. In Bangladesh and in the UK too, where this doesn’t seem to be happening right now either. We value the teaching of maths and history and a whole host of academic subjects. Survival in the water should be up there too.
The most gratifying thing for me when I left Dhaka to return back home was not the fact I had swum across the Bangla Channel. It was knowing that people were more aware of the statistics and were beginning to realise something should change. I hope as time passes they will continue to realise this. If the young are taught to swim, you can create a legacy. They are more likely to get their siblings to swim and when they grow up more likely to teach their own children. Over time drowning figures will be lower. Plus the fact swimming is such a good activity for men and women of any age. It has so many health benefits, physical and mental. Especially for city dwellers in any country who undertake little physical activity. Above all it can be such fun as well.
I don’t want my link with swimming and Banglesh to end now my big swim is done and dusted. I hope to return soon, to help out with the SwimSafe schemes and continue to educate on why swimming is so important. Meanwhile back at home I do much to promote the activity and help out when I can with schemes running here to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those who were never given the opportunity to learn.
I will never forget the big grins the young children at Sreepur Village displayed when they managed to swim a few strokes. So heartening to see their happiness, knowing this was something that could safe their lives one day as well. I feel I owe it to them and all the other young people to do what I can to help more. If one life is saved by me raising awareness then the work is worthwhile. Above all I cannot wait to return to a country where I received such a warm welcome. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and compassion I was shown and I wish to continue to show the same to the people of Bangladesh and their children.