Mak­ing the sea safe, in a land of 2,500 drown­ings a year

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - IMPACTJOURNALISM DAY - Writ­ten by Jan Vic­tor R Ma­teo for the Philip­pine Star, the Philip­pines

Sit­u­ated in the trop­ics of the Pa­cific, the Philip­pines have some of the best beaches in the world. How­ever, the coun­try also ranks highly in the num­ber of peo­ple – es­pe­cially chil­dren – who die due to drown­ing. A re­cent study by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) showed that nearly 2,500 peo­ple drowned each year in the Philip­pines be­tween 1980 and 2011.

Float Philip­pines is a re­cent ini­tia­tive by a group of Aus­tralian stu­dents from Grif­fith Univer­sity. In 2015 they sought to find a drown­ing pre­ven­tion pro­gramme to be rolled out across the Philip­pines.

“Drown­ing pre­ven­tion pro­grammes are com­mon­place in Aus­tralia and we grow up feel­ing safe when we are at the beach, both as a re­sult of our swim­ming cul­ture and the in­cred­i­ble job our surf life­savers do pa­trolling the beach,” says An­drew McLean, di­rect­ing man­ager of Float Philip­pines.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion wants to run “learn to swim” and “surf life­sav­ing” pro­grammes to de­crease cases of drown­ing, par­tic­u­larly in tourist spots along the coast. Nearly two years af­ter their ini­tial idea, Float’s lo­cal co-or­di­na­tor, Kina San­til­lan Pas­cua, says they are near­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion phase of the project.

Pas­cua, a for­mer co-or­di­na­tor for the Aus­tralian em­bassy, says she sees the im­por­tance of im­ple­ment­ing a drown­ing pre­ven­tion pro­gramme in the Philip­pines.

“I work in a lot of de­vel­op­ment projects and ev­ery­where I go, I see a lot of com­mu­ni­ties with kids play­ing near shore­lines. It’s their back­yard and we have to im­ple­ment pro­grammes that will make their en­vi­ron­ment safer,” she says.

While the long-term ob­jec­tive is to pro­mote a cul­ture of safer aquatic spa­ces in the en­tire Philip­pines, the team be­hind the projects un­der­stands that it has to limit its pro­gramme to make it sus­tain­able and scal­able.

Float’s pilot project will be based in Baler, but the team hopes that in the long term, it will be able to pro­vide surf life­sav­ing train­ing across Aurora Prov­ince.

“We hope to en­sure sus­tain­abil­ity through train­ing and de­vel­op­ing skills of the lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions we are work­ing with. In ad­di­tion to this, we want to pro­vide lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships to these or­gan­i­sa­tions run­ning the project from the ground level to boost their knowl­edge and ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the drown­ing-pre­ven­tion field,” says McLean.

For these Aus­tralian stu­dents, dis­tance – and the dif­fer­ence in cul­ture – is not go­ing to be a hin­drance to en­sur­ing that Filipino chil­dren are safe in the wa­ter.

As McLean puts it: “We think that every­one should have the abil­ity to learn to swim and en­joy an aquatic en­vi­ron­ment.”

An­drew McLean dis­cussing swim­ming strate­gies with the Zam­bales Swim Team

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