25 September 2017

Swimming Saves Lives



Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya
Photos and video by Metee Thuentap

This story was published in Bangkok Post newspaper on 23 September 2017

SAKON NAKHON, 25 September 2017 – When Nontakarn Tetngarmtuan was 5 years old, his hometown in Nonthaburi was flooded. He and his grandmother were out repairing a wooden bridge in his village when the boy fell into the water and nearly drowned.

“I was so scared because I did not know how to swim,” said Nontakarn, now 11, a 6th grade student at Anubankhoksisupan School in Sakon Nakhon Province. “I was saved by my grandmother but I did not dare to get close to water for years.”

Not every child is as lucky as Nontakarn. According to a Ministry of Public Health report published in 2014, drowning is a leading cause of death in children in Thailand. The report also revealed that 1,243 children under 15 years die from drowning each year. This means that every six hours in Thailand, a child drowns.

The rate of child deaths by drowning is about twice as high for boys than it is for girls. According to the report, most child deaths by drowning happen during school holidays. The report also reveals that the northeastern region has the highest rate of child drownings in the country, followed by the central, northern, and southern regions, respectively.

Students at Huayprayai Padungvitaya School in Sakon Nakhon Province learn swimming in the portable pool that UNICEF provides under the UNICEF-supported SwimSafe project, which is aimed at preventing drowning in children.

No child should die from a preventable cause. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and other partners to pilot the SwimSafe project at 20 schools in 10 provinces, including Sakon Nakhon, Kanchanaburi, Nan, Phitsanulok, and Satun. These schools receive a portable pool and training for teachers on how to teach children to swim and to equip them with the skills they need to survive in water. About 6,000 children are currently benefiting from this first phase of the programme.

“Our objective is not only to teach children how to swim,” said Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, Education Officer at UNICEF Thailand. “We also want children to be safe, survive, and thrive as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Survival skills in the water include “Shouting, Throwing, and Extending.” “Shouting” tells children that they should first shout for help when they see someone drowning. “Throwing” teaches them what to throw to a drowning person to help them survive. This could be an empty plastic bottle that will help them to float and that is easy to find. “Extending” teaches children that they can extend long object like stick to help reach the victim and pull them to dry land. All of these techniques help to reduce the risk of children drowning.

Swimming teachers at Huayprayai Padungvitaya School in Sakon Nakhon Province teach students that they can use empty bottle to help them float in the water to prevent drowning.

“These survival skills can be mapped with the national plan to prevent drowning in children in Thailand,” said Rangsun.

Seksan Somnoi, a teacher at Huayprayai Padungvitaya School in Sakon Nakhon Province, said swimming is a crucial skill for students, especially in the Northeast where there are a lot of natural water bodies like creeks and swamps.

He cited two sad incidents where children’s lives were lost – one happened last year when three children in Phonnakaew district of Sakon Nakhon drowned, and another one happened in August this year when the province was hit by flood and a child drowned playing in flood water.

“I am very happy that our school receives a pool and support for swimming classes,” he said. “Before, almost all children at the school could not swim. But now, more than 50 per cent of the children can swim.”

Nong Amm who studies at Huayprayai Padungvitaya School in Sakon Nakhon Province learn swimming in the portable pool that UNICEF provides.

He admitted that it was a challenge at first to get children into the pool.

“Many cried at first because they were afraid,” he said. “But soon they became familiar with being in the pool and now they love swimming.”

Siraphop Saenduang, a student teacher at Anubankhoksisupan School, which is another school in the programme, said all 428 students at the school get to use the pool and learn how to swim, including children with disabilities.

“Children with slow learning ability also get to take swimming class like other students, but under special care,” he said. “For some of these children, this is the class in which they can concentrate the most.”

Students at Anubankhoksisupan School in Sakon Nakhon Province learn swimming in the portable pool that UNICEF provides under the UNICEF-supported SwimSafe project.

Wasoontara Paitakaew, a 6th grade student at Anubankhoksisupan School, said she found swimming useful and she hoped students at other schools would get to learn this important survival skill.

“I think it’s important for all students to know how to swim,” said Wasoontara, who did not know how to swim until the school got the pool. “Swimming has already helped me when our house was hit by flood in August.”

UNICEF gathers the lessons learned from each of the pilot schools so they can be used to improve implementation further. This includes lessons on how the swim safe curriculum is introduced and delivered and what the impact is on children’s swimming and water survival skills. UNICEF continues to advocate for greater investment and training of school personnel so that all school children in Thailand can benefit from the swim safe programme and learn these critical survival skills.

“Water brings happiness to children, but it also has hidden dangers,” said Rangsun. “We need to equip them with the water survival skills so they can save themselves and others around them when emergency happens.”

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