Drowning accounts for more deaths in the Western Pacific Region for children aged 5-14 years than any other cause. 91% of drownings occur in low and middle income countries (WHO report 2015). In the Philippines 8 people die from drowning a day (World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2011). Shocking statistics.
Les and Debbie from Australia visited Tacloban for a VFV construction project but they realized they could make a difference in another way too.
I spent a morning with them to find out what that was!
The children are raring to go. We were due to leave at 8am but they all arrived around 7am! Clutching their rucksacks and already dressed in their swimwear about 20 giggly and excited children pile into the jeepney along with Debbie and Les.
10 minutes later we arrive at Don Pedro where the swimming camp is taking place.
Debbie – assisted by some of the older girls applies generous amounts of sun cream to the children’s faces and arms (being in water increases the chance of sunburn!). Brightly colored goggles are handed out to each child. The children are put into groups and they are ready to go! The first group don’t need any encouragement to jump into the pool.
How it began
How did Debbie and Les from Australia find themselves at a guest house in Tacloban teaching Filipino children how to swim?
The couple first came to volunteer with VFV for a construction project. Debbie is a swimming teacher back in Australia and suggested to VFV that they could run swimming classes for sponsored children who would otherwise not have the chance to learn.
VFV were convinced and in April 2015 Debbie and Les ran a weekend of swimming lessons as a trial. The weekend was a huge success and in October they returned to run a week long swimming camp. Fast forward to today and the two are running their third swimming camp.
Many of the children taking part in this April’s sessions attended the previous two camps. Over the sessions Debbie has seen children go from being scared of getting into the water to not being able to wait to jump in and start swimming!
The children are taught in small groups with plenty of one-on-one tuition. They start the children off using flotation boards, teaching them breathing techniques and breaking the strokes down into easy steps. Eventually as their skills develop and confidence grows the children are able to lose the board.
Happy parents, happy children
I speak to Aida whose 4 year old daughter Aifa is happily splashing about in the pool. I ask her why she is keen for her daughter to learn how to swim.
Her answer is chilling and shows how much this town was affected by the 2013 typhoon: ‘If anything like Yolanda happens again she would know how to swim’.
Aifa’s favourite stroke is backstroke. This is her second time at swim camp. Back in October she was frightened of the water. This time round she can’t wait to get in. Aida hopes her daughter will continue swimming, she now wants to learn herself.
Maryln is here with her 5 year-old grandson Ross. It’s his second time too. A swimmer herself, she too wants him to learn in case another catastrophe hits their island. She tells me that Debbie and Les are very responsible, they have gained the trust of the children who are very happy learning to swim with them. Swimming is very expensive- so normally they would not be able to go. She explains that the children were so excited when they heard Debbie and Les were coming back.
8 year old Zoe is a first timer at the camp. She could not swim before. ‘Diving is my favorite thing about swimming’ she says.
The children clearly love their swimming lesson and are reluctant to leave the pool when their turn is over. Les and Debbie always plan a pool party at the end of their swim camps. The children get to practise what they have learned and are awarded prizes.
Debbie and Les are really keen for this scheme to be sustainable and have trained Kevin (one of VFV’s sponsored scholars) so that he will be able to supervise swimming sessions in between their visits.
The couple put a lot of effort into raising funds for the swimming program. Their idea is to train more local volunteers to support the scheme as well as for VFV to use the funds for hiring the pool and providing equipment for the children.
VFV’s motto is ‘make a difference’ and our core aim is for development to be sustainable. The swimming scheme initiated by Debbie and Les certainly ticks both these boxes. They are making a lasting difference.
Do you have a passion for swimming? Find out
how you can teach swimming to children whose parents can’t afford lessons or
donate to support the ongoing development of this scheme.
Fantastic volunteers like Debbie and Les plus support from you means that VFV can continue to give children in Leyte the chance to have fun, exercise and learn a lifesaving skill.
Story and photos: Liz Avery VFV Media Intern