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At a glance: Viet Nam

Viet Nam: Swimming, a vital life skill for children

© UNICEF Vietnam/2005
UNICEF has helped develop a simple swimming net to make swimming lessons safer in lakes and rivers in southern Viet Nam.

By Steve Nettleton and Jihun Sohn 

DONG THAP PROVINCE, Viet Nam, 8 July 2005 – Not knowing how to swim can cost a child his or her life, especially in Viet Nam. Waterways outnumber roads in Dong Thap Province in the Mekong River Delta of southern Viet Nam, and annual flooding caused by monsoon rains takes a severe toll, particularly on children. Drowning accounts for more than half of all injury-related deaths of Vietnamese children between four and fifteen. Each day some forty children die from drowning. Most of these children could be saved - if they only knew how to swim.

UNICEF-supported swimming lessons

Here, teaching children to swim requires some special precautions - as there are no swimming pools - so lessons must be organized in rivers or lakes, or even in the sea. UNICEF is supporting the training of instructors, and has helped design a simple swimming net to ensure the safety of lessons.

Ly Hoang Khang comes to lessons in My Hoa commune once a week. He said learning to swim has helped him deal with his fears in times of natural disasters. “I like the lessons and now I’m not afraid when the flooding comes,” he said.

The swimming lessons are part of a broader, nationwide effort by UNICEF and the Vietnamese government to protect children from injury. It’s the first program of its kind in the world. By raising public awareness of common dangers, the project aims to change people’s attitudes and behaviour, and reduce death or disabilities from accidents.

© UNICEF Vietnam/2005
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in Viet Nam. Learning to swim is a vital life skill for children like Ly Hoang Khang in Dong Thap.

A central concept of the program is the ‘child-safe school’. Children receive instruction on how to avoid common injuries: in the water, on the road or at home. These schools also feature enhanced safety measures, including fences, improved water and sanitation facilities and a ‘talking gate’ that reminds children to look out for traffic before walking on the street.

Fifth-grader Nguyen Huu Tho said he now takes more care while walking to and from school. He said injury prevention education has taught him how to avoid many dangers: “While we are swimming we should not jump from a high place. Also we should not touch electrical outlets, and we should not tease animals,” said the fifth grader. 
Preventing injury-related deaths

Ninety-eight per cent of all child injuries occur in the developing world. The environment in these countries is full of hazards for children, including unfenced ponds and ditches, uncovered wells, open fires, poor construction, and a scarcity of safe play areas. However, injury-related deaths and permanent disabilities are just as preventable as those caused by measles and other infectious diseases.

In the industrialised world, the number of children who die from injuries has fallen by more than 50 per cent over the past 50 years. This success was made possible through a combination of changes in knowledge and attitudes and, most importantly, changes toward a safer environment by putting fences around swimming pools and potential diving places.

By providing swimming lessons aimed at curbing preventable child deaths, Viet Nam has proved that such measures can be adapted for the developing world.




8 July 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on how swimming lessons save lives in Viet Nam

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