Tuesday, November 24 2020


Australian volunteers saving lives one swimming lesson at a time

Update: February, 22/2018 - 08:00
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

Hồng Vân

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

Cao Thị Thúy from Thới Sơn Commune has two children aged six and twelve, who both participate in the programme.

Thúy 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 Mỹ 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 Việt Nam to offer drowning prevention clinics for disadvantaged, disabled and orphaned children from villages along the Mekong River.

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.

Her project has also provided training and professional development workshops in Việt 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 Việt 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.”

Helping hand: Children learn how to save someone who is drowning.

In 2011, she had chance to read a report on drowning in Việt 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 Việt Nam and held the first drowning prevention clinics in Mỹ 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 Việt Nam seven times, mostly working in Mỹ 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 Mỹ 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 Mỹ Tho are supportive of our work,” said Bev.

Keeping safe: An Australian swimming teacher trains a local teacher about drowning prevention.

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 Mỹ 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.

Making a splash: Australian volunteers visit Việt Nam every January to teach local children to swim.

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

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

Nguyễn Thị Kim Chi, director of the Sports Centre said: “Mỹ 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.”

Lê Văn Dũng, head of Department of Education of Mỹ 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



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