Early last year, foreign news journalist and qualified swim teacher, Becky Horsbrugh, travelled to Bangladesh to provide assistance for a drowning prevention scheme. She’d recently been introduced to a harrowing fact, that 50 children die a day from drowning in Bangladesh. Throughout the whole of the UK that many children die in water, in a year alone. It was immediately clear to Becky that she needed to help if she could, and so she arranged to travel to Bangladesh, intent on lending her expertise to the local schemes. This was a crisis that was very close to Becky’s heart. Swimming is something she has filled her spare time with for as long as she can remember, and like many wild swimmers, she can’t remember a time when she didn’t feel at home in the water.
AU: What is your earliest memory of swimming outdoors?
Becky: I can’t remember not being able to swim. My fondest memories must be when I was very little by the seaside. The water never seemed cold even when we had disappointing summers. My greatest memory must be when I was about 7 and we were staying in a little village called Kingsand in Cornwall. The weather was atrocious, though not stormy, my brother, some friends and me were in the water with our dinghy, splashing around and having a whale of a time. We felt wild and free. And with us? My lovely gran who was always game for an adventure.
As someone who’d been raised to appreciate and relish the aquatic life, Becky was shocked to learn that many kids in Bangladesh, for whom an ability to swim is often a life-saving necessity, the sport of swimming was seen as quite alien and natural waters were often regarded as hazards, not playthings. Many local kids don’t learn to swim at all, and yet flooding is very common throughout their country and many vulnerable homes are huddled around fast-flowing waterways. In fact, up to 68% of Bangladesh can disappear under swathes of muddy water during the heavy monsoon season. Drownings are commonplace, even deep inland, where rural homes are often found with adjacent ponds commonly used for bathing and fishing. During those long periods of heavy rainfall, any place with a natural water body becomes a death trap for local kids.
So, it was clear to Becky that the need for widespread swim schools in Bangladesh was critical. When she arrived, in July 2017, she travelled to Sreepur Village and was introduced to the charity CIPRB (Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh), who are responsible for the SwimSafe scheme.
AU: What is the Swim Safe scheme?
Becky: The SwimSafe scheme is essentially a programme aimed at preventing child drowning and promoting swimming as a sport in Bangladesh. The ‘survival swim training programme’ ensures that a child can swim 25 metres, tread water or float for at least 30 seconds and perform a dry land rescue. [The CIPRB] are doing such great work in this area, not only with the SwimSafe schemes which are opening across several areas in the country but also with their lifeguard schemes, which the RNLI advise on, in coastal areas.
AU: And what did you take away from your involvement with the drowning prevention scheme?
Becky: I feel my trip to Bangladesh was quite a life-changing moment. I fell in love with the country but also it made me feel determined to do more to help others less fortunate than us. In the UK there is a great swimming community and we are lucky it is our hobby and something we do for fun and in our spare time. For so many people around the world though, swimming is an essential skill and there are few opportunities to learn. Once I was back in the UK I started to research drowning statistics and was appalled to see how big an issue it is in so many countries. Just in Bangladesh for example, 50 children die a day in the water. I was never really aware of such figures, and I believe many others are unaware as well. So, my aim now is to educate people on what a big issue it is, and also how we can help others. I hope eventually to be involved in this sphere full time and have already been in touch with British charities who are working in this area, to see how we can pool our knowledge and work together.
After returning home Becky reflected on her time spent at a swim school in central Dhaka, where special concrete pools are reserved for the local kids to learn in. She soon realised that she wanted to continue helping in whatever way she could. Determined to do more, she decided to return to Bangladesh this year (2018) with the intention of swimming the ten-mile Bangla Channel on January 29th, in the choppy seas around Cox’s Bazar. She hopes to use this swim to draw attention to the local drowning prevention scheme, aiming to be the first Brit to swim from St Martins Island to Teknaf (a few Bangladeshis have done it, as well as four Indians and a Dutchman). Any money she raises will be used to assist the ongoing swim training programmes and to hopefully alter the terrible drowning statistics.
AU: How are you preparing for your 10-mile Bangla Channel swim?
Becky: When I agreed to do the event, I had no clue how to train for such a long swim! My longest distance beforehand had been around 6km in a river – with tidal assistance, though I am a regular open water swimmer. I train with a club called SwimforTri and have been going to club lessons once a week with them, which has been great as I find it pushes you a bit more when swimming with others. I’ve been swimming 4 times a week and most sessions are around 4km – a mix of drills, speed, and endurance. I don’t think I have got a great deal faster, but my strength and endurance have definitely increased. The biggest issue I have had is having to do most of my training in the pool as it is winter time here and too cold for me to do long swims outdoors. However, I have had at least the luxury of two 50m pools near to me to train in.
I have been lucky to get in contact via Facebook with one local out there who has done it and he has given me invaluable advice on what kind of conditions I might expect. This has really helped me mentally ahead of the swim as otherwise, I would have no real idea what to expect. There are no sharks in the Bay of Bengal, so I don’t need to worry about any local wildlife.
If you’d like to support Becky, she is currently accepting donations on her GoFundMe page. Any money she raises will be used to help the local swim schemes in Bangladesh, to support the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and CIPRB to keep local kids safe around dangerous bodies of natural water. As you read this, the RNLI is working in conjunction with the CIPRB, striving to provide guidance and training for lifeguards in coastal areas. They have kindly stated where any donations will go:
Teaching a kid how to swim – £21
Delivering a water safety lesson to a classroom of 30 children – approximately £30
Training a lifeguard – £16
Employing one lifeguard for a month – £233
Employing one lifeguard for a year – £2,800
Running a lifeguarding service on one beach/year – approximately £25,000
Purchasing and installing a portable pool £5,000 plus £3,000 installation cost.