London 2012 funds pond swimming lessons in Bangladesh

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Children in Bangladesh are being taught to swim as part of a programme run by the London 2012 Olympics organisation.

Bangladesh suffers frequent flooding, yet many of its children cannot swim.

An average of 18,000 children drown each year, making it the biggest cause of death for those aged between four and 10-years-old, according to Unicef which is supporting the scheme.

Bangladesh is one of 20 countries getting funding from London 2012's International Inspiration programme.

At one project in the Narsingdi region of Bangladesh, just outside the capital Dhaka, village children learn to swim in a pond, adapted with bamboo poles to create three depths of pool.

"We cannot just build swimming pools here. We are a developing country so we modify our ponds," said Dr Kamran from the Centre for Injury Prevention Research, another NGO collaborating in the project.

Local coaches are training children in life-saving skills as well as swimming.

"The children have criteria to meet. They have to swim 25m, tread water for 30 seconds and be able to save themselves and someone else from the water. Then they are a graduate," he explained.

Survival skills

The children are taught to react to their friends struggling in the water and to drag them out using bamboo poles, without actually going into the water after them.

These skills might have saved the life of one Narsingdi child who drowned last year.

Start Quote

It's not just about the fun of the Olympics - we're dealing with survival”

End Quote Carel de Rooy Unicef, Bangladesh

Husna has been struggling to cope with the loss of her son and was crying as she spoke. "I know that for me as a mother it feels like there is nobody born in this world who has endured the same pain as me," she said

Husna's son drowned last year, swimming just metres from their small village home. He was with a friend who was unable to save his life.

"This was our child who we loved more than anything. I am really surprised to see how his father is still coping with it."

"When you live in a Delta like Bangladesh where 40 districts are flood-prone, for children it's very dangerous," said Carel de Rooy, the Unicef representative to Bangladesh.

"It's not just about the fun of the Olympics - we're dealing with survival."

"You see recently the floods in the Mekong Delta and in Bangkok for example, many of the victims were children because they didn't know how to swim."

Unicef's aim is that the Bangladeshi Government will eventually run this programme.

"We can't be depending on foreign support for this forever," explained Carel de Rooy.

"As experience tells us, and we've been in the country since the 60s, we trust that at some point, when the demand comes from the people themselves, and we have that critical mass, then they will pick it up."

You can hear more on Asian Network Reports on the BBC Asian Network.

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