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With a view to providing swimming lessons to children living near water bodies in the city, UNICEF runs three portable swimming pools offering free swimming lessons to children for more than three years.
While many of the children living in the slums near the swamps in Dhaka are at risk of drowning, swimming lessons can avert many tragedies.
“Much of the risk of drowning can be minimized by teaching the children of those slums how to swim. As their parents can’t afford swimming lessons for them, our portable pools are an effort to make them immune to drowning,” said Syed Imtiaz Ahmed, child protection officer of UNICEF.
The three portable pools—one near Taltola, Agargaon; one near Mirpur 11; and one in DOHS, Mahakhali—offer 15 days training to children aged between 4 and 10. However, those who take longer to learn can receive the training until they graduate.
In order to graduate, a child needs to display the skills of survival in water, swim 25 metres straight and float for 30seconds, informed Imtiaz. The graduates also know rescue techniques.
On an average, about 3,000 children graduate every year since 2009, when the pools were installed.
“I know that I have to gain energy by floating idly for a few moments when I need to swim a long distance at a stretch,” said a seven years old Helal Rafi who live near Baunia Bazar slum at Mirpur 11. His instructor Rima Akter said that he learnt most of the swimming lessons in 12 days only.
“Most children are quick learners and find the lessons fun,” added the 20 years old instructor.
The hour-long classes begin at 9:00am in the morning and go on till late in the afternoon. Batches consisting of a maximum of 18 children take the instructions. Children begin to flock around the pool even before the class of the previous batch is finished.
“The advantage of having portable pools is that we will be able to move them somewhere else when all children of these areas graduate,” said Imtiaz.
The risk of drowning for urban children, who can’t swim, increases when they visit their parental homes in villages near rivers.
Besides, there are many shanty houses made of bamboo and thatch on the water bodies in Dhaka. The banks of rivers flowing through Dhaka are also crammed with permanent and temporary houses. It is crucial that children of these communities learn how to swim.
Although about 50 children die by drowning in Bangladesh everyday, most parents do not take the need of teaching their children how to swim very seriously, he insisted. As a result, the children of both affluent and working class families do not get swimming lessons.
Moreover, the opportunities for urban children to learn how to swim are limited. The few facilities offering swimming lessons to children are largely beyond the means of people of lower income bracket.
The water bodies in and around Dhaka are constantly being filled up to make way for other uses. The remaining rivers and canals are so polluted that it is hardly possible for children to swim in them without contracting some disease.
In a country where more children die of drowning than any other disasters, an initiative by the government to provide swimming lessons for children can save many lives.