Hue organization spends 12 years teaching 14,000 Vietnamese children how to swim

By Duc Trung   August 9, 2023 | 03:47 pm PT
Hue organization spends 12 years teaching 14,000 Vietnamese children how to swim
Graham Buckley (front, L) teaches a child how to swim in Cu Lao Cham in Hoi An. Photo courtesy of Hue Help's Facebook page
Hue Help, founded by Graham Buckley from the U.K. upon seeing the staggering figures of child drowning deaths, has helped over 14,000 Vietnamese kids learn how to swim since 2011.

Buckley was only 18 when he traveled to Cu Lao Cham in central Vietnam's Hoi An in 2006 to join a swimming teaching program organized by the Global Volunteer Network. He was initially assigned to teach English to children at a social center in the nearby Thua Thien Hue Province.

During conversations with locals, Buckley learned that the number of children drowning to death in Vietnam was the highest in Southeast Asia. Over 7,200 children under 19 drowned to death in 2005-2006.

A 2022 report by the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture and Education said drowning was the top cause of death due to accidents and injuries for children and underage people in Vietnam. Over 2,000 kids have drowned every year on average in 2016-2020, while only 30% of Vietnamese children aged 6-14 know how to swim, the report added.

Shocked by the staggering numbers, Buckley founded Hue Help and contacted global funds, asking them to sponsor a swimming education program to prevent further deaths.

"A lot of children really like and enjoy playing in the water, but sadly a lot of children don't have the opportunity to access safe swimming lessons and learn swimming in a structured way," he said.

After several years of discussion with Hue authorities, Hue Help began to send in international experts to help teach children swimming for free, as well as training physical education teachers at local schools. All the courses were free, an effective model with a sustainable and lasting impact.

Training Vietnamese teachers is considered to be a factor to make the program sustainable, as after the training courses, schools would be able to launch their own initiatives to prevent drowning.

Vietnamese teachers who join the training programs will be taught swimming teaching skills for five days per international standards.

"Working with the schools is a very logical approach, because the schools already have management structures in place, they have people, and they have teachers who already know how to teach," Buckley said.

"They have a relationship with the children and with the children's parents, they're trusted by the community. So our view was always that it would be sensible to work with them and try to build their capacity, try to help them to implement this."

Following their training, the teachers instruct the children in accordance with the swimming program devised per the standards of World Aquatics. Over 18 lessons, the children are taught how to swim, as well as safety awareness in the water and lifeguard skills.

The lessons are taught in an open water environment, like ponds, lakes, rivers and seas and tightly monitored by Hue Help. The water level is not higher than a child's chest, and one teacher watches over a group of five students.

Buckley said the model was inexpensive, making it suitable for rural areas.

In a 2020 meeting, Nguyen Dung, then the deputy chairman of the Thua Thien-Hue People's Committee, said Hue Help had made practical contributions to local children, and authorities would provide the best opportunities for Hue Help to work in the province.

"As long as there's a significant number of children who get trained, and the program continues to be rolled out on scale and scaled up, then yes, I think [the goal] is realistic," Buckley said.

In the national plan on preventing children’s accidents and injuries for 2021-2030, Vietnam aims to decrease the number of children’s drowning deaths in 2025 by 10%, and 20% in 2030.

Buckley said it was an achievable goal if Vietnamese children had more access to swimming and safety lessons.

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