Tomorrow, 22 new Aquatic Survival Instructors join the ranks of the existing 36, as we present them with their Instructor certificates. It is really fun course to deliver, with lots of different elements of content that we add in. As I have my first lie in of the entire time that we’ve been out here in Sudan, I reflect on the people that I’ve taught this week.
These people are all volunteers; they’re not paid anything for coming on this course except a small amount to cover their travel expenses. Something is motivating them to give up three days of their time for us to train them, and then to continue to volunteer their time to teach others.
These people are not poor by Sudanese standards. They almost all have smartphones, they have nice clothes, many of them go to buy Coke and Pepsi to drink at meal times. They have some disposable time, and some disposable income. They are not living near the poverty line. In other words, they are not at most risk from drowning in Sudan.
Yet… on the first day, when I ask people to introduce themselves, I’m interested in “why”. Why are they here? Because they want to learn more about water safety. Yes, but why? Because they like to learn? Yes, but why learn about water safety?
Because my brother was my best friend, and he drowned six years ago.
Because my 6-year-old son fell into the river, and was drowning, I didn’t know what to do. Somebody helped him. I don’t want other people to experience this.
Because I was on a celebratory picnic with my work colleagues, and one of them drowned.
Because when I was small, I nearly drowned, and now my mother asks me to do every water activity so that I learn how to be safe near the water.
Most of you reading this will be familiar with the WHO figures, and you may also know how conservative those estimates are. These new aquatic survival instructors put a human face on those numbers for me, and they make me wonder just how many people are drowning in this grey part of Africa on the map below where “insufficient data is available”.
The plural of anecdote is not data, but the anecdotes are certainly overwhelming.