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Making a lifesaving difference in Bangladesh

Every day in Bangladesh, 40 children die from drowning. It’s the biggest killer of children aged 1–4. The RNLI won’t stand by while anyone, anywhere, drowns. We can help prevent it. And we must. 

Kat and Gill sit in a brightly coloured Anchal, talking to the project team

Photo: CIPRB 

Kat and Gill learning about what data is collected from the Anchals

Together with the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), we’re working to keep preschool children safe by supporting village creches, known as Anchals, and by equipping the women who run them with vital lifesaving skills.

Last month, Kat Gosney and Gill Price from the RNLI’s International Team visited Dhaka and Barisal, Bangladesh, to meet the frontline staff and see their drowning prevention work in action. To commemorate World Drowning Prevention Day this week, which aims to raise awareness of the effect of drowning on families and communities, we're sharing an excerpt from their travel blog:

Day one: Adjusting our body clocks

Here we are, safe and well in Dhaka after the best part of 24 hours in transit. We took the first part of the day to adjust our body clocks (it's 5 hours ahead here), catch up on sleep, freshen up and settle in. 

I woke up with the obligatory stuffy nose from the extreme change in climate, prolonged travel, and air-conditioning but I’ve just had the best breakfast of curry, so I think I'm acclimatising just fine.

The temperature is about 35 degrees and very humid – a challenge for face masks and glasses. Did I mention that it's currently monsoon season? We dodged the downpour until we found a market and managed to buy umbrellas – vital at this time of year! 

In the afternoon, we met with people from our partner organisation, CIPRB. We were introduced to newer members of the team and given an update on the various elements of project work, from communication and fundraising to delivery.

Day two: Travelling to Barisal 

We flew to Barisal on the second day, along with Borkhat and Farukh – staff at CIRPB who lead the delivery of the drowning prevention project and monitor results. Once we landed, the four of us travelled by van to the local office in Kalapara. The scenery in Barisal is very different from that in Dhaka. It’s a rural area and very flat. There are rice fields and water bodies everywhere. The drive crossed several large rivers and there were lakes all along the roadside. Eventually we reached our hotel on the coast, 3 hours later. 

The view of Barisal from a plane, showing a large, winding river and lots of green fields

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

Flying to Barisal gave us the opportunity to see just how much of the country is covered in water bodies

The van ride was great for chatting to Borkat and Farukh, and learning from their wealth of experience. We talked about the work we hope to do together while we’re here – reviewing the tools we use to monitor, evaluate, and learn about our drowning prevention work, and scoping out a new way to capture data. As well as a chance to bounce around work ideas, it was a great distraction from the hair-raising drive – playing chicken with oncoming buses seems to be the norm!

The view from the van’s dashboard, showing a busy and colourful street

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

Our driver was very skilled at navigating the traffic

That evening we took a stroll down to the sea front. This is where Bangladesh meets the Bay of Bengal. It's a popular tourist spot so there were lots of people enjoying the beachfront, which was dotted with fish stalls. 

Day three: Visiting the Anchals 

We visited several Anchals in the region. It was really inspiring to meet the Maas who run the Anchals on their own land. The Anchals are small wooden buildings with a gate across the doorway to keep the children safe, and are brightly decorated with pictures, learning materials, and information about drowning risks.

With the support of the UK Government's Aid Match scheme and generous supporters who donated through the Creches for Bangladesh appeal, we’ve helped CIPRB to establish 300 Anchals to keep 5,000 children safe from drowning and help prepare them for school. 

Inside a Barisal Anchal, a small room decorated with bright walls and posters, with several children sitting inside

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

Inside the Anchal: The children play, alongside their Maa and her assistant

We spoke to the Anchal Maas and their assistants about the data they record about each child and to look at their monitoring records (which were very comprehensive). One Anchal Maa treated us to a feast of fresh mangos from her garden, and the children sang and danced. It was clear to see she’d created a very happy, safe and positive environment for them.

In the afternoon, we were able to see the swimming lessons being run by one of the community swimming instructors. These lessons are given to children between the ages of 6 and 10 who live in places where they are vulnerable to the risk of drowning. 

Five children and their swimming instructor stand in the water, learning how to swim

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

A swimming lesson being given by the community swimming instructor

The lessons began with a series of exercises so the kids could practice the movements they had already learned. Then they went into the water, five at a time. In the lesson we saw, they were being taught how to push away, glide through the water with their head down, and kick their legs. There were roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in the lesson and they all swam in their clothes. Although this must be hard, it gives them a realistic understanding of how to survive in water when you’re fully clothed.

A deep pond just metres from the Anchal, with white netting around the outside

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

A pond next to the Anchal, a prime example of how the risk of drowning is ever present 

After the swimming lesson, we joined a parents’ meeting. This was well-attended, perhaps because of us visitors. The number of mothers in attendance far outweighed the number of fathers. Farukh explained that this was because many fathers were away maintaining their livelihoods – farming, fishing, or working in larger urban areas.

Our final stop of the day was to attend a Village Injury Prevention Committee Meeting. This was only the second meeting convened since the withdrawal of Covid-19 restrictions. The Committee President was a very active and supportive man. He was hoping to take forward a few initiatives, such as rotating the location of the meetings to encourage greater community participation, and hosting a series of games and competitions for the children and parents to support World Drowning Prevention Day.

Several members of the village sit in a circle to discuss initiatives to reduce drowning

Photo: RNLI/Kat Gosney

The Village Injury Prevention Meeting: The President (sitting on the right at the table) was very supportive of initiatives to reduce drowning

We've observed several elements of the interventions: Anchals, Swim Safe lessons, meetings. Each one has given us a better insight into the day-to-day of the project work, life within these communities, and the challenges and opportunities there are for the projects. Although our presence was sometimes more of a distraction than we'd have liked, we always felt very welcomed. 

By the end of the trip, together with CIPRB, we had created an action plan for reducing the reporting burden on staff so they can concentrate on delivering the interventions. This involved practical steps to reduce reporting duplication and exciting enhancements to the project by updating their data systems to incorporate digital methods. Saying goodbye was an emotional moment, after spending such an intense amount of time together and achieving so much. It felt like we’d been there a month, and we were part of the CIPRB family. 

World Drowning Prevention Day

Drowning has taken 2.5M lives around the world in the last decade. Many of these tragedies involved children, and most were preventable. 

In 2021, the United Nations made history by officially recognising drowning as an important international issue. As part of the resolution, 25 July was marked as World Drowning Prevention Day. 

This year, we’re working closely with lifesaving organisations and partners around the globe to support events that will draw attention to the preventable loss of life through drowning. And we’re asking everyone to do just one thing to address the very real threat of drowning, like sharing water safety advice, signing up for swimming lessons, or making a donation. For someone at risk of drowning, this one thing could mean the world.

With you beside us, we pledge that we will never stand by. This is our watch. And with you by our side, we will go even further to save every one.

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