Lifeline to keep children afloat

Mr Andrew McLean discussing swimming strategies with the Zambales Swim Team in the Philippines.
Mr Andrew McLean discussing swimming strategies with the Zambales Swim Team in the Philippines.PHOTO: FLOAT PHILIPPINES

PHILIPPINES • With over 7,000 islands in the tropics of the Pacific, the Philippines boasts some of the best beaches in the world.

But the country also ranks high in drowning-related deaths - especially among children. A recent study released by the World Health Organisation shows an average of 2,500 people drowned in the Philippines every year between 1980 and 2011. While the government is implementing various initiatives to address the issue, there is no denying that there is a lot more to be done.

This was why, in 2015, a group of Australian students from Griffith University, headed by Mr Andrew McLean, decided to implement a drowning prevention programme across coastline communities in the Philippines.

Float Philippines aims to engage global and local organisations - including the government - to come up with strategies that will lower the drowning rate. It plans to implement "learn to swim" and "surf lifesaving" programmes, particularly in tourist resorts such as Baler in the north-west of the vast archipelago.

"For the 'learn to swim' project, we are hoping to partner Baler Central Primary School to create a sustainable swimming programme. By doing this, we hope to extend the teachers' expertise and allow them to reach more swimmers," said Mr McLean.

There is still much work to be done to address the problem of drowning in the country. But for these students, nothing can hinder their determination that Filipino children should be safe in the water. "We think that everyone should have the ability to learn to swim and enjoy an aquatic environment," Mr McLean said.

While the long-term objective is to promote a culture of safer aquatic spaces, the team knows it has to limit the programme for now, to make it sustainable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Lifeline to keep children afloat'. Print Edition | Subscribe