Monday, 11 June 2012

The Brojen Das Swimsafe project: 1500 children 'vaccinated against drowning'!

Much has happened since my previous posting. Unfortunately I did not manage to update you earlier.

1. Funds have been transferred to CIPRB... 
... and that was not as straightforward as it sounds. I wanted to transfer the funds I raised with my Channel Swim to the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) already in February, but CIPRB couldn't receive the money until March due to the need to obtain government approval to receive foreign funds, and that took a while.

The total amount consisted of 4730 euros in donations from a large number of individual contributors, which I topped off to 5000 euros to make it a nice round number, which was then undone by the bank's transfer fee... :-(

Confirmation of receipt of the funds.
The number of beneficaries mentioned in the letter is a mistake; it should read: 1500 children, not 1000.

2. ... and the Swimsafe project has started!
CIPRB had in the meantime been working on an excellent proposal for a project. I had suggested to locate it in the surroundings of the city of Barisal, which last year made the newspapers in Bangladesh because of an exceptionally high number of drowning cases.

Together we decided to call it the Brojen Das SwimSafe project, to honour the legendary Bengali Channel swimmer  who between 1958 and 1961 swam the English Channel no less than six times.
(The term and methodology of 'SwimSafe' are copyright protected: CIPRB developed the SwimSafe programme in collaboration with Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA), The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) and the Bangladesh Swimming Federation in 2005.)

This year the Brojen Das Swimsafe project will teach in 10-12 lessons 1500 children between 5 and 15 mostly from very poor families in and around Barisal to swim and survive in the water as well as teaching them elementary rescue techniques to save their peers. Bamboo constructions that allow for safe lessons such as the ones you see in the pictures below have been set up in 10 locations in villages and slums around Barisal, and 15 swim teachers, local young adults, have been selected and trained and receive a (very modest) salary with the project funds.

The Brojen Das Swimsafe project in Barisal has been set up uniquely with the money from your donations, though with a sizeable in kind and in cash contribution from CIPRB itself. It is part of a larger SwimSafe effort by CIPRB in the South of Bangladesh.

If you wish to receive the full Brojen Das Swimsafe project document (locations, beneficaries, budget details etcetera), please contact me.

3. Project visit on 11 May
The project started in March, when the nights get warmer and the water in the village ponds is no longer too chilly to swim in. It was well underway when my family and I, together with CIPRB's Aminur Rahman and his family, visited it on 11 May. Here are a few pictures of that visit.

The 'launching ceremony' banner. In fact the project started already in March.

On our way to the SwimSafe site: a fish pond near a village. The project finances 10 such sites.

Before the start of the lesson: the children pose for a picture with the village head (on my right hand side), my family and myself. The text in Bangla on the children's T-shirts says 'I can swim'. The village head, my son Milan, and I later took a plunge in the pond ourselves.
Waiting for their turn, looking a little nervous.
Children are led into the water very cautiously one by one, and never more than 6 at a time. To note that boys and girls attend these lessons in mixed groups!
A view from the other side of the pond.
In the inner rectangle there is a plateau made of bamboo so children can stand safely there. 
Children learn to put their heads under water for a few seconds. Ten lessons later they will be swimming freely!
No lack of spectators!

All in all a deeply satisfying visit - all contributors get excellent value for their money!

4. A second contribution from the Dhaka Masters swim group, and goodbye to CIPRB

For me personally the field visit was not the end of the Channel swim story. Ahead of my imminent departure from Bangladesh, CIPRB invited me on 10 June to meet with all staff in their Dhaka office and to celebrate our joint endeavour.  I was also able to hand over an additional amount of 59.000 Bangladesh taka (appr. 600 euro's) for the project, mostly raised in a charity event by the AISD Masters swim group  in a 6-hour swim event on 26 May and complemented by 150 euros from two recent late contributions to the Channel swim bank account.  I have been asked to convey CIPRB's heartfelt thanks to all contributors, not merely for the financial contribution, but also and at least as much for the moral support and encouragement.
It was a wonderful, warm goodbye between friends, in the hope and expectation that we will meet again.

A last picture with all Dhaka based staff of CIPRB.
Fazlur Rahman and Aminur Rahman, who have become good friends over the last two years, are second and third from the right in the front row.

Proof of payment of the second contribution from
the Dhaka Masters swim group & two late contributions
to the Channel swim bank account

A very nice token of appreciation from CIPRB, in my name, but through me of course to all contributors


5. Closing the chapter, and starting a new one
My posting in Bangladesh is coming to an end. All I can hope for is that enough momentum and visibility have now been created for others to continue and help address the problem of drowning in Bangladesh (remember: 50 children drowning per day!) and to massively upscale support for solutions such as offered by CIPRB. Because 1500 children is a nice number, but Bangladesh' population is more than 150 million....

From August onwards my family and I will be posted for four years in .... Malawi. I hope to be able to report on new swim projects soon.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

In Prothom Alo

It is not every day that I find myself in my host country's newspapers like this ;-). From yesterday's Prothom Alo.

From left to right: Musa Ibrahim, an unknown person, myself, Muniruzzaman, Lipton Sarkar, and coach and organiser Hamid.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Bangla Channel 2012: 3h46m single crossing, double crossing attempt aborted

Back from Teknaf and the Bangla Channel Swim. Managed a single crossing in 3 hours and 46 minutes. Piloting by my Taratari Shipyard crew (Thibault, Alexandra and Mr. Roy) and their Sampan boat was perfect, the weather sunny and not too much wind. Four swimmers: Lipton Sarker, Everest climber Musa Ibrahim accompanied by cameraman Moniruz Zaman, and I set out at appr. 7:00 am, watched from the Teknaf fishing jetty by local people, including a number of women in burkas. The other three all did 'snorkeling swims', i.e. in snorkeling gear including fins. Looks not very helpful to me, but Lipton has crossed the Channel this way already 6 times.

The first two hours were fine and fast, helped by the outgoing tide. It started to get difficult and more tiring already in the third hour, much earlier than I expected. It didn't get much better in the fourth hour, and it turned out that the water was teeming with 'stingers', invisible little jellyfish that feel like a thousend pinpricks, like rolling your face in nettles!  I was relieved to arrive at the beach on St. Martin's Island, where I was received by Hamid the race organiser, press including two TV-crews (!), and a crowd of onlooking locals. I still wanted to make the attempt for the double so I didn't linger: applied some fresh grease and sunscreen, gave one - not very coherent - reply to a TV crew, and was off again. I don't think my arrival was all that impressive: I was quite tired and came onto the beack stumbling.

The attempt at a double crossing had to be given up: just off St. Martin's Island we got caught in a countercurrent combined with a headwind and rougher sea. For 1.5 hours I felt like a hamster in a treadmill as the island seemed to remain exactly where it was beside me, instead of disappearing behind me. While I could have continued swimming for a few more hours to see if I could get out of the current, or for the current to turn, I realised that after that I would still need another 4-5 hours to get back to the mainland. That seemed a tall order in view of the modest volumes of training I had had in the past couple of months and last week's short but nasty bout of stomach flu, which had sensibly undermined my reserves. So I called it quits five and a half hours into the swim while I still felt reasonably well and lucid. On our way back we almost lost the way on an ever rougher sea and were joking that we would land in Birma and spend time in a prison cell...
Lipton arrived at St. Martin's Island after 5 hours and 10 minutes, and also turned around for the double. But he must have swum into the same current as I and aborted his double crossing attempt shortly after me. Musa and Monir arrived at the island both after more than 8 hours - on our return to the mainland we saw them swim and they looked utterly spent - bravo for finishing!

I can't help but feel a little disappointed: this is the first time I do not (fully) finish a swim I had set my mind on, but I am quite sure it was a sensible thing to do. I spoke to Lipton over the phone and he wants us to try the double again next year. We'll see - insh'Allah.

There were a lot of photo and film journalists active, but I haven't seen a single photo or any footage online so far. Will try to post some as soon as I find them.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Two days to go

A press conference was held on 13 March where the Bangla Channel Swim was presented to the media, see here. I am happy with the extra visibility for the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh. Lipton Sarker's and my planned attempt to try the first ever double crossing of the Bangla Channel is generating some enthusiasm. Steven Munatones was kind enough to mention the swim and the work of CIPRB on his blog 'The Daily News of Open Water Swimming', see here.

Lipton Sarker, Musa Ibrahim and their coach and co-organiser Hamid have already left Dhaka and are practicing  around St. Martin's Island today. Weather forecasts are looking good.

But unfortunately Tullio Ferri has had to cancel his participation for work-related reasons. And I am not 100% well myself: yesterday I had to go to bed early with a throbbing headache, bad muscle pain and a temperature. I feared dengue fever for a moment, but probably not: with copious paracetamol I am back on my feet again this morning, but feeling weak. Hopefully it will just pass - this is no condition to try and swim >30 kms in...

Tomorrow my friend and colleague Aminul Islam and I will take the 12:50 flight to Cox Bazaar, then take a car to Teknaf, where we will have appr. an hour until sunset to practice with my crew and meet up with the others. I will meet my crew and the boat Sampan (kindly made available by Yves Marre's Tara Tari shipyard) for the first time.

Monday, 5 March 2012

New plan: swimming the Bangla Channel on 16 March 2011

Announcing a new plan: to swim the 'Bangla Channel', a 16 km stretch of water from mainland Bangladesh to St. Martin's Island, Bangladesh' southernmost point. It has been swum before by others. This year for the first time it will be a race, with so far only 4 solo participants.

Will tell you more about it soon, as well as about the CIPRB's Swimsafe project, which will start in April, when the weather and the water get warmer.