A day in the life of a female swimming teacher in Bangladesh

To mark International Youth Day (Saturday 12 August) we’re sharing the story of Jeny, a 19-year-old trainee beach lifeguard, and swimming teacher in Bangladesh.
Jeny, 19, trainee beach lifeguard from Bangladesh

Photo: Jane Labous

‘I’m the only female swimming teacher here in Cox’s Bazar’

‘I’m 19 years old, and I’m the only female swimming teacher here in Cox’s Bazar. I’m also training to be a lifeguard. I love what I do and I’m very proud of my career.

‘I learned to swim at a very young age, because there are many ponds in my village, and I used to swim and play in them with my friends. Now I’m so pleased I can use my skills to help others. Sometimes I swim before work to keep fit. I also walk for one hour every day.

‘Swimming lessons always start on time at 10.30am, so when I arrive, I complete my attendance form, check the pool for water condition and any hazards, and sort through my papers. Then I chat with parents and children who come early for lessons. Sometimes they call me swimming teacher, sometimes they call me by my name, Jeny. But they are always very respectful.’

‘It’s very important that children know how to swim’

‘Here in Bangladesh there are many ponds, canals, rivers and of course, the sea. You can’t keep children away from the water. It’s very important that children know how to swim, so that they feel at ease in the water, and so they can rescue themselves if they get into trouble.

‘I teach both boys and girls to swim - but especially girls, because they feel more comfortable having swimming lessons from a woman. Without a female swimming teacher, no girls here would come for lessons.

‘When I look at my class of children in the water, I feel so proud. It’s a great achievement that the group has so many girls. Even better, they are strong and able. Children get into trouble in the water such a lot in Cox's Bazar, it shouldn't be that boys but not girls can survive and learn to save others.’

‘I wanted to join the RNLI’s SwimSafe programme’

‘I trained to be a swimming teacher in 2015 with CIPRB [Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh]. At the time I worked for another NGO [non-governmental organisation], and because I was a good swimmer, the swim teaching training was easy.

‘Once I was trained, I gave swimming lessons to different people in the community. When I heard about the CIPRB’s SwimSafe programme, I wanted to join. Again, I got trained and performed well. Then I got the job offer and was really excited.

‘My family feels very proud of me, because by becoming a swimming teacher and learning to be a lifeguard, I can save lives. I feel very comfortable working here as a woman. The two other male swimming teachers are very friendly and polite. But sometimes I feel lonely. If I had another female swimming teacher as a colleague, I could share everything with her.

‘Sometimes I’m criticised by others outside the family. They say I should do a different job where I’m not meeting so many people, because I’m not married. It’s not the done thing for a Bangladeshi woman to do sports or be on the beach before her marriage. But I don’t care. I know what I’m doing right now and what I want to do in future. I want to be confident and self-sufficient, and help my society progress.’

‘I'm trying to be the female role model I didn't have when I was growing up’

‘My favourite part of my work is when I see the children in my class start to swim without my help. That’s when I know I’ve done a good job!

‘In small ways, I believe we are making real change here. Until now, the water surrounding us has been a source of life and death. Simple swim skills can make all the difference. We need local women to be leaders and an inspiration. Through this job, teaching children to swim and training to save lives, I'm trying to be the female role model I didn't have when I was growing up.’