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Vulnerable Vietnamese children learn safe water skills through Swim for Life programme
Drowning is a leading cause of death for children in Vietnam. It is estimated that as many as 32 children lose their lives in streams and rivers across the country every single day. In response to what has been dubbed a ‘public health emergency’ UNIS Hanoi is collaborating with Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training to offer safe water skills to underprivileged children.
Known as the Swim for Life Service Learning programme, UNIS Hanoi opens its swimming pool doors on a weekly basis to a diverse group of local children, including teens living on the streets and children with disabilities. The programme, which has evolved over the last decade, aims to equip Hanoi’s most vulnerable with essential swimming know-how in a bid to keep them safe around large areas of water.
Now, thanks to funds from the School’s Birthday Gift Fund, the young beginners are not learning how to swim from adult instructors, but from the School’s best and most talented high school swimmers, who are trained to teach.
Commenting on the initiative, the School’s Aquatics Director, Ms Ella Healy, who volunteers her time to facilitate Swim for Life, says the programme has become so successful because UNIS Hanoi students are at the forefront of the teaching and the children they welcome benefit from their tailored instruction. She added, “I really try to stay in the background. I want to empower our students to lead and direct the programme. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to teach children of different abilities, plan the lessons, think through challenges as well as conduct the teaching.”
Every academic year, the Swim for Life programme attracts 16 student volunteers, mainly UNIS Hanoi swim team stars. Together the group teach as many as 100 children over the course of nine months who are sent from charity partners, Blue Dragon and KOTO, as well as local elementary school children selected by the Ministry of Education and Training.
Dedicated, friendly and gifted, the UNIS Hanoi students truly believe in their service. Seventeen year-old Andy Cole, who hails from the United States has become known as the team ‘expert’ on teaching safe water skills to children with disabilities. “I love to swim and so I wanted to pass it on” shared Andy when asked why he joined Swim for Life. “I love being part of this programme because we get to interact with the kids every week, giving us the chance to see the difference we are making.”
From a child with Down Syndrome initially being “deadly scared’ of the water to a boy with no legs shown how to manoeuvre in the pool, Andy and his friends have witnessed real progress. And it is these astounding transformations in the lives of others that has spurred students such as seventeen year old, Grade 11 student Yoon-Ju Gee on to work extra hard to obtain the coveted American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor's certificate.
Since last academic year, UNIS Hanoi was able to offer Swim for Life volunteers who were 16 years and above the chance to gain internationally recognised certification, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the School’s Birthday Gift Fund. Yoon-Ju, originally from Korea, became one of only three students in the School’s history to be awarded the certificate, something she’s extremely proud of.
Remarking on the introduction of the American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor’s certificate, Ella said, “Motivating our students to work towards certification helps forge a sense of responsibility and commitment. In order to receive the certificate, they have to undergo 30 hours of training and teaching and we ask them to commit to serving on Swim for Life for another academic year, once they’ve achieved the certification. By doing this, we have a pool of experienced student instructors which is hugely beneficial to our vulnerable learners. We couldn’t have been able to offer this without the extra injection of monies from the Birthday Gift Fund.”
In addition to boosting her confidence as an instructor, Yoon-Ju’s certification has lead to a paid part-time after-school role on the School’s Aquatics Academy team. Now, every week, in addition to the Swim for Life sessions, Yoon-Ju also teaches kindergarten children from Hanoi.
“Without Swim for Life, I would never had discovered how much I love to teach” said Yoon-Ju. “Now that I have one certificate, I want to work towards the Lifeguard certificate. I hope that whatever career I decide to do in the future, I’ll always continue being a swimming instructor.”
From the success of this growing programme, this year for the first time, a one-week summer programme is being offered to our students to complete their American Red Cross training in order to be able to deliver a wider programme of training for the community in 2016-2017.
By Akofa Wallace
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