Life in Vietnam

Thursday, 22/02/2018 09:17

Australian volunteers saving lives one swimming lesson at a time

In the pool: Bev Christmass (left) is the founder of AWSOM, a project aimed at reducing deaths from drowning and raising awareness of the importance of water safety. — Photos courtesy of the AWSOM project
Viet Nam News

Hong Van

Every year primary schools in the southern city of My Tho are excited to welcome their special guests - a group of Australian swimming teachers who come to Viet Nam to teach local children to swim and  train teachers about water safety.

Cao Thi Thuy from Thoi Son Commune has two children aged six and twelve, who both participate in the programme.

Thuy said: “We live in a rural area with surrounding water, therefore swimming is a vital skill for kids. We often travel by boat to central My Tho city, so I feel more comfortable now that my children have learned to swim through the programme.”

Every year, Australian swimming teacher Bev Christmass leads a team of up to 20 volunteers to Viet Nam to offer drowning prevention clinics for disadvantaged, disabled and orphaned children from villages along the Mekong River.

Her project has also provided training and professional development workshops in Viet Nam and scholarship programmes for Vietnamese swimming teachers to travel to Australia. There, they undertake further training with the aim of reducing the cases of drowning in the community and raise awareness of this ‘leading killer’.

“Sustainability and education will drive our future direction as we strive to keep children safer in and around water. 

“Our team was incredibly proud watching the children who didn’t know how to swim at the start of the programme dive into the pool and swim a whole lap confidently and finish with a big grin on their faces,” Bev said.

Bev was a swimming teacher when she first came to Viet Nam in 2008 with her husband.

Impressed by the country, Bev decided that she wanted to return and “do something special for the Vietnamese people.”

In 2011, she had chance to read a report on drowning in Viet Nam. Shocked by the high rate of fatalities among young children, Bev was inspired to help the communities by teaching them about drowning prevention.

Bev and seven of her colleagues came to Viet Nam and held the first drowning prevention clinics in My Tho City in January 2012.

On her return to Australia, the swimming teacher established a registered charity named Australian Water Safety on the Mekong (AWSOM).

It raises funds through donations from the public and from family and friends.

The team has visited Viet Nam seven times, mostly working in My Tho, where they offer teacher training courses, drowning prevention clinics for local children and water exercise classes for the elderly and children with disabilities.

Up to 1,900 children in My Tho City have participated in the clinics, 400 of them children from remote areas.

“We have never had a problem encouraging the children to participate. We are very fortunate that the Education Department and the Sports Centre in My Tho are supportive of our work,” said Bev.

The clinics are all held with the cooperation of primary schools. Children are brought to the swimming pool during school time to attend the clinics.

“The children are always very excited to be involved in the programme. They all work very hard to learn new skills,” said Bev.

“Our focus is on drowning prevention and water safety. We teach children how to rescue people in danger without putting themselves at risk. We also teach them what to do if they fall into water. They will learn how to improve their chances of survival if they are drowning as well as the dangers of water,” she added.

Vietnamese swimming teachers had the chance to join a 10-day professional development course in Perth.

The project also provides Vietnamese teachers with training opportunities from Australian teachers every year.

Starting from 2016, a child disability scholarship was launched, which grants recipients year-round lessons at the My Tho swimming pool and weekly lessons from local teachers.

“It is vitally important that children with disabilities have the opportunity to learn to swim and learn about water safety. Swimming has enormous benefits for children with disabilities, such as improvements in physical and mental health, improved flexibility and strength and improved social skills. These children also have the right to learn about being safer in and around water,” said Bev.

“It is rewarding to see the beautiful smiles on the faces of the children when they proudly demonstrate how they can rescue their friends safely from the water,” said Bev.

“I am happy to watch the passionate young Australian teachers embrace the opportunity to help the communities in Viet Nam.

“It is meaningful that we are having an impact in saving children and families from the devastating effects of drowning,” said Bev.

Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, director of the Sports Centre said: “My Tho City will cooperate with the project to teach swimming to younger children who are at the age of three to four. We will also maintain the swimming course for children with disabilities as well as water exercise for the elderly to improve health.”

Le Van Dung, head of Department of Education of My Tho said: “This programme is very meaningful and practical. AWSOM helped the education department of the city to implement the Drowning Prevention for Students programme with the best results.” — VNS



Keeping safe: An Australian swimming teacher trains a local teacher about drowning prevention.
Helping hand: Children learn how to save someone who is drowning.
Safety first: The AWSOM team visited a local school to teach students first aid skills, which may help them save the lives of their friends and family in the future.
Making a splash: Australian volunteers visit Viet Nam every January to teach local children to swim.

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