The Women of Drowning Prevention
Before WCDP 2015, I had seen a photo taken at the World Conference in Potsdam two years earlier. It was a picture of a group of men. “Where are all the women?“, I asked, only to be told that there were regrettable few women involved in the world of drowning prevention. I am pleased to say that my experience at WCDP 2015 in Penang suggested something very different. Whilst women are not well represented at all levels of lifesaving organisations globally, there are plenty of women who are working on grassroots projects around the world and who are changing the communities that they work with, to prevent drowning. Here are just three of those inspirational women:
Christina Fonfe has been teaching swimming to women in rural Sri Lanka for over 10 years. She works in communities where women are often chaperoned when they leave the house and where swimming is not considered a skill that women need. First, Christina must convince these women of the value of learning to swim, teaching them self-survival techniques for if they should fall into the water before they move on to swimming strokes and simple rescues. The women and teenage girls that Christina and her team teach are able to pass on these newfound survival skills to their own children and others in the community. The strongest swimmers go on to work as swimming teachers, giving them an income and an associated increase in independence.
Tizzy Bennett works in Seattle and has identified that refugee families in the area are at far greater risk of seeing a family member drown than other families. She recognises that drowning is preventable in all parts of society and wanted to help educate these high-risk families about how to enjoy the area’s open water safely. She has designed and runs training courses about lifejacket use for refugee families in their home language, using many of the same techniques that Nile Swimmers uses in Sudan to get important messages across, despite the language barrier.
Dr Olive Kobusingye is an expert in trauma and injury prevention at Makerere University in Uganda who has recently been working to demonstrate the extent of the drowning problem in Africa. Olive and her team have carried out extensive data collection surveys in fishing communities along the shores of the Lake Victoria, in a country where accurate records about drowning simply do not exist. She is a passionate and out-spoken advocate for drowning prevention in low and middle income countries where the vast majority of global drownings take place. She is determined that better data will demonstrate the scale of the problem and the requirement for more to be done to counter the drowning epidemic in Africa.
These are just a few of the amazing women that I met at WCDP 2015, women who are making a huge contribution to drowning prevention across the world. It is a contribution that deserves to be recognised and I can hope that when others see pictures from WCDP 2015 before the next World Conference in Vancouver in 2017, these magnificent women are represented.