Monday, 11 June 2012

The Brojen Das Swimsafe project: 1500 children 'vaccinated against drowning'!

Much has happened since my previous posting. Unfortunately I did not manage to update you earlier.

1. Funds have been transferred to CIPRB... 
... and that was not as straightforward as it sounds. I wanted to transfer the funds I raised with my Channel Swim to the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) already in February, but CIPRB couldn't receive the money until March due to the need to obtain government approval to receive foreign funds, and that took a while.

The total amount consisted of 4730 euros in donations from a large number of individual contributors, which I topped off to 5000 euros to make it a nice round number, which was then undone by the bank's transfer fee... :-(

Confirmation of receipt of the funds.
The number of beneficaries mentioned in the letter is a mistake; it should read: 1500 children, not 1000.

2. ... and the Swimsafe project has started!
CIPRB had in the meantime been working on an excellent proposal for a project. I had suggested to locate it in the surroundings of the city of Barisal, which last year made the newspapers in Bangladesh because of an exceptionally high number of drowning cases.

Together we decided to call it the Brojen Das SwimSafe project, to honour the legendary Bengali Channel swimmer  who between 1958 and 1961 swam the English Channel no less than six times.
(The term and methodology of 'SwimSafe' are copyright protected: CIPRB developed the SwimSafe programme in collaboration with Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA), The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) and the Bangladesh Swimming Federation in 2005.)

This year the Brojen Das Swimsafe project will teach in 10-12 lessons 1500 children between 5 and 15 mostly from very poor families in and around Barisal to swim and survive in the water as well as teaching them elementary rescue techniques to save their peers. Bamboo constructions that allow for safe lessons such as the ones you see in the pictures below have been set up in 10 locations in villages and slums around Barisal, and 15 swim teachers, local young adults, have been selected and trained and receive a (very modest) salary with the project funds.

The Brojen Das Swimsafe project in Barisal has been set up uniquely with the money from your donations, though with a sizeable in kind and in cash contribution from CIPRB itself. It is part of a larger SwimSafe effort by CIPRB in the South of Bangladesh.

If you wish to receive the full Brojen Das Swimsafe project document (locations, beneficaries, budget details etcetera), please contact me.

3. Project visit on 11 May
The project started in March, when the nights get warmer and the water in the village ponds is no longer too chilly to swim in. It was well underway when my family and I, together with CIPRB's Aminur Rahman and his family, visited it on 11 May. Here are a few pictures of that visit.

The 'launching ceremony' banner. In fact the project started already in March.

On our way to the SwimSafe site: a fish pond near a village. The project finances 10 such sites.

Before the start of the lesson: the children pose for a picture with the village head (on my right hand side), my family and myself. The text in Bangla on the children's T-shirts says 'I can swim'. The village head, my son Milan, and I later took a plunge in the pond ourselves.
Waiting for their turn, looking a little nervous.
Children are led into the water very cautiously one by one, and never more than 6 at a time. To note that boys and girls attend these lessons in mixed groups!
A view from the other side of the pond.
In the inner rectangle there is a plateau made of bamboo so children can stand safely there. 
Children learn to put their heads under water for a few seconds. Ten lessons later they will be swimming freely!
No lack of spectators!

All in all a deeply satisfying visit - all contributors get excellent value for their money!

4. A second contribution from the Dhaka Masters swim group, and goodbye to CIPRB

For me personally the field visit was not the end of the Channel swim story. Ahead of my imminent departure from Bangladesh, CIPRB invited me on 10 June to meet with all staff in their Dhaka office and to celebrate our joint endeavour.  I was also able to hand over an additional amount of 59.000 Bangladesh taka (appr. 600 euro's) for the project, mostly raised in a charity event by the AISD Masters swim group  in a 6-hour swim event on 26 May and complemented by 150 euros from two recent late contributions to the Channel swim bank account.  I have been asked to convey CIPRB's heartfelt thanks to all contributors, not merely for the financial contribution, but also and at least as much for the moral support and encouragement.
It was a wonderful, warm goodbye between friends, in the hope and expectation that we will meet again.

A last picture with all Dhaka based staff of CIPRB.
Fazlur Rahman and Aminur Rahman, who have become good friends over the last two years, are second and third from the right in the front row.

Proof of payment of the second contribution from
the Dhaka Masters swim group & two late contributions
to the Channel swim bank account

A very nice token of appreciation from CIPRB, in my name, but through me of course to all contributors


5. Closing the chapter, and starting a new one
My posting in Bangladesh is coming to an end. All I can hope for is that enough momentum and visibility have now been created for others to continue and help address the problem of drowning in Bangladesh (remember: 50 children drowning per day!) and to massively upscale support for solutions such as offered by CIPRB. Because 1500 children is a nice number, but Bangladesh' population is more than 150 million....

From August onwards my family and I will be posted for four years in .... Malawi. I hope to be able to report on new swim projects soon.