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Volunteers can volunteer too: Learning to swim in Samoa
02 May 2008
by Willy Morrell

Students and volunteer coaches at 'Tanifa le Vai' swim club in Samoa. (Willy Morrell/UNV)Students and volunteer coaches at 'Tanifa le Vai' swim club in Samoa. (Willy Morrell/UNV)
Samoa-based volunteer Willy Morrell has been taking a little time out of his regular United Nations Volunteers (UNV) activities to help coach learn-to-swim classes at Samoa's new aquatic centre.

With the support of the Samoa UN team, Willy has been joining a big crew of volunteers on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings to help out the local junior swim club 'Tanifa le Vai' ('Water Monster') to teach young children to swim.

"It is really rewarding work," says Willy, "but it can be quite hard going, particularly with the younger kids who tend to hang on for dear life." 

The non-profit swim school is headed by Suzie Schuster (an ex-Peace Corps volunteer now resident in Samoa) who is helped out by both local volunteers and international volunteers from several different organizations.

Willy said that one of his reasons he chose to volunteer with the club was the fact that, despite Samoa's island setting and circling lagoons, ironically many adults and children here don't know how to swim, as it simply isn’t taught as a part of the school curriculum.

This problem is not specific to Samoa. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about a third of all global drowning deaths occur in the Western Pacific region. Sadly, the most over-represented group in this statistic is children aged under five.

WHO research indicates that many drowning deaths in the region could be prevented by conducting 'learn to swim' programmes for primary school children and by promoting water-safety and resuscitation skills, particularly in low- to middle-income countries.

Unfortunately, comparatively few such programmes are being carried out in the Pacific region. "So for me," Willy concludes, "this is about as simple as it gets in terms of implementing Millennium Development Goal 4 and reducing child mortality. It might be a small step but at least it is in the right direction for 2015."