Parvez makes a splash
When Parvez first came to the attention of the Bangladesh Swimming Federation he was a shy ten-year-old from the slums of Mirpur who, along with a bus load of other children aged between 5 – 10 years old, were embarking on their first lesson of survival swimming, funded by UNICEF and run by the Centre of Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB).
The program, SwimSafe, was developed to combat high rates of child drowning in Bangladesh, where more than 17,000 children a year lose their lives so unnecessarily. To date approximately 28,000 children have been taught how to swim, and not one of them has drowned since. SwimSafe is one component of a child injury prevention project currently implemented in three rural areas and one urban area, Mirpur, specifically targeting underprivileged families and children.
Despite being malnourished and noticeably small for his age, Parvez stood out from the other children in his lesson with his swimming talent.
“We recognised the potential in Parvez immediately. He picked up the technique of freestyle more easily than the other children. He had a relaxed, easy manner as he moved through the water and he was fast. We were really surprised to find such talent,” said Md. Golam Mostafa, National Swimming Coach and Member of the Bangladesh Swimming Federation.
Mostafa followed his instincts and encouraged Parvez to enter in the 2007 National Swimming Competition, by which time he had already completed the survival swimming course. In the competition Parvez competed amongst five-hundred children and came third in the heats for his age group where he raced against 25 other children. He narrowly missed a prize-winning place, coming a very respectable fourth.
The next competition will be held next August. Mostafa believes Parvez, now 12, has an excellent chance this year if his diet improves and his body weight increases. This will prove a challenge though, as he is cared for by his grandmother who does not have the financial means to provide him with more nutritious food. This angel of a woman adopted Parvez after he was found abandoned as a baby, only a few days old. When asked if he is good to his grandmother, Parvez nodded happily and offered a genuine, “Yes.”
Naturally quiet, Parvez is modest when asked about his swimming despite his instinctive ability. When asked if he was apprehensive about going in the water before his first swimming lessons, he’s adamant that he was not, but after a little gentle probing he admitted to a few fears.
“Before I started the swimming lessons I was a bit scared of the water. I wanted to play with my friends so I would still go, but I’d stay in the shallow parts,” he said. “Now I swim anywhere.”
With the weather now warm and the local pool open for swimming, Mostafa is encouraging Parvez to go swimming at least twice a week, even showing him new strokes such as butterfly, to enhance his fitness and speed. These specialized lessons go above and beyond the survival swimming lessons which Parvez completed nearly two years ago at the Bangladesh Swimming Federation swimming arena. One of the community leaders in Parvez’s neighborhood has committed to escorting this upcoming competitive swimmer to the pool himself..
“Now all my friends want to take the swimming lessons, and a lot of them already have,” said Parvez.
Who knows, Bangladesh, not known for its sporting prowess beyond the cricket ground, could very well have a future Olympic swimmer on its hands.
UNICEF Bangladesh continues to provide financial and technical support to the SwimSafe programme.
This project is supported by the UNICEF Netherlands National Committee and the Government of Spain.