In Sudan, people rely on the waters of the Nile for cooking, drinking, washing, fishing, agriculture and industry. The river brings life but it also takes it away. It is unclear how many people in Sudan drown each year but it seems that everyone knows a family member or close friend who has drowned.
Nile Swimmers has been working in Sudan since 2007. Their mission is to make Africa safe around water. Originally, a development project of the British Council, Nile Swimmers has grown dramatically over the last ten years to recognise water safety issues in Sudan and the programmes that can combat drowning there. This is largely down to a highly motivated team of staff and volunteers. These people have grown up in Sudan and understand the culture, people’s social values and the challenges they can present to delivering swimming and water safety programmes. They are determined to find local solutions that work to prevent drowning. On top of that, Nile Swimmers has established strong partnerships with government departments and other organisations with an interest in drowning prevention.
One of the biggest programmes that they run is teaching water safety in schools using The Aquatic Survival Programme. Working with the Ministry of Education, Nile Swimmers master instructors are teaching schoolteachers across Khartoum how to deliver lessons on water safety. The master instructors and teachers have worked together to teach vital water safety messages to over 30,000 school children and, over the next 5 years, they hope that every one of the 2 million school children in Khartoum will receive this training. The messages cover everything from telling someone where you are going, checking for dangers in and around the water, always swimming with friends and learning how to help someone in trouble in the water without putting themselves in danger. The funding received from Speedo Swim Generation will help Nile Swimmers to reach 120,000 students over the next two years. This funding will be used to target schools in the most at risk areas – those in districts close to the River Nile and other large bodies of water that are attractive recreational spots for school children.
Nile Swimmers also teaches rescue and CPR skills to men and women from vulnerable communities. In a country where emergency services are rare, giving people in every community the skills to help someone in trouble in the water and to perform life-saving first aid can be the difference between life and death.
Women play an important role in drowning prevention. In Sudan, they are primarily responsible for childcare. Women need to understand water safety so they can protect themselves but also so that they can protect and teach their children. In a culture that values the modesty of women and where women swimming is often seen as a social taboo, the involvement of women in Nile Swimmers training programmes has been a slow process. In 2014, they were able to include women in training programmes for the first time. Since then, female volunteers have been a powerful driving force in expanding the scope and scale of work. Women now make up a majority of the master instructors in the schools programme supported by Speedo Swim Generation.
The work that Nile Swimmers does teaching life-saving skills is only one part of their work in Sudan. Information on how, who and where people drown in Sudan is limited and many drowning deaths go unrecorded. That means that the problem is largely unrecognised so they are working with universities in Khartoum and across Africa to better understand the scale of the drowning problem in Africa. This helps to raise awareness of the issue and to build evidence of who is affected by drowning and what can be done to successfully change that. This not only gives confidence in the effectiveness of training programmes but also gives government officials the data they need to implement the right policies to turn the tide on drowning.
Drowning facts for Sudan*:
The rate of drowning in some villages near Khartoum is nearly twice as high as the rate of drowning the WHO estimates for Africa (15.7/100,000 compared to 7.9/100,000).
Anecdotes suggest that migrant brick workers are at particularly high risk with one supervisor saying 6-7 men drown each month in a single village with a migrant population of roughly 7000.
The Sudanese Water Police who are responsible for water rescue have approximately 200 people to cover over 2800 km of the River Nile, White Nile and Blue Nile in Sudan.
*Source: Nile Swimmers
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