Drowning prevention, Gender and Community: Saving lives in Sudan. A Lotus Rises Meets Nile Swimmers’ Becky Sindall

Nile Swimmers are a small charity that are doing big things to tackle drowning in Africa. The World Health Organisation estimate that over 372,000 people drown annually worldwide (not taking into account those who drown in floods or boat-related accidents) and most of those deaths take place in low and middle income countries.

Nile Swimmers works with local community leaders along the River Nile to identify safe areas to access the water, provide safety advice and safe swimming lessons to everyone in a community, and train them in first aid, CPR and water rescue skills.

Becky is a long time supporter of Nile Swimmers and the first female instructor trainer in the organisation. She has delivered training with Nile Swimmers in Lebanon and Sudan. She started swimming competitively from the age of 10 and after starting university, became increasingly involved in lifesaving.

To top off her watery existence, she now works as a Senior Research Scientist in Thames Water’s Innovation department, looking for “the next big thing” in wastewater treatment.

Life on the Nile

Life on the Nile


Why did you become involved in Nile Swimmers?

I met Dan, Dom and Tom, three of the trustees of the charity, through university lifesaving. I competed for Birmingham and used to swim against them when they were competing in teams from Manchester, Southampton and Loughborough.

In 2013, I got a phone call out of the blue from Dan asking if I would be interested in going to Lebanon for a few days to teach a lifesaving course in French. One of the trainers had pulled out at the last minute and in looking for other lifesaving instructors, my name had come up as someone who might be capable and interested in teaching lifesaving abroad. They were certainly right!

I had followed the work of Nile Swimmers since its conception and I was impressed that they were working in tough environments to make a difference to a problem that was already close to my heart. I jumped at the chance to join them and working in Beirut was a fantastic experience.

Lifesaving in the Nile

Lifesaving in the Nile

From that point on, I was hooked! In January this year, I got another phone call, this time asking if I would be interested in spending a few weeks in Sudan as the female instructor trainer for their first women’s course in the country. I was booking leave from work almost before I’d put the phone down!

Please describe the work you undertook in your recent visit to Sudan.

In March, myself and another international trainer ran two different courses in Khartoum. The first week-long course was a Beach Lifeguard Progamme for 17 men, run on the banks of the River Nile. The men learnt rescue skills, first aid, CPR and the essential skills of lifeguarding a beach, which in Sudan includes how to make affordable rescue equipment from locally sourced materials. During the second week, we ran an Aquatic Survival Programme for 17 men and 19 women. This course gives them the skills to go into schools and community groups to teach others, particularly children, basic water safety messages which can help to keep them safe in and near water.

CPR training

CPR training

This was the first time that a Nile Swimmers programme in Sudan has been able to include women. This is a major breakthrough in a conservative Muslim country and meant that the programme included a lot of firsts for Nile Swimmers, and indeed for Sudan. It was the first time we had a woman training men, the first time women involved in the programme, the first time women had learnt water rescue skills in the pool and in the Nile in Sudan, and the first time men and women were taught CPR together.

What has been the impact of this work?

The impact of these programmes has been phenomenal. As part of the Aquatic Survival Programme, the participants worked in groups to put together a project to go on to teach what they had learnt to people in their community. The best of the planned projects were given a small amount of funding by Nile Swimmers to make them a reality and since March, the 36 instructors have taught basic water safety messages to over 3000 children and CPR to over 900 adults and teenagers.

Learning key messages: Swim with a friend

Learning key messages: Swim with a friend

Equally impressive, we have also had one of the participants, Husam, use the lifesaving skills he learnt on the training course to save a man who was spotted at the bottom of the pool where he was working as a receptionist. Husam pulled the man from the water and started rescue breathing. The man recovered and was later taken to hospital. To know that the Nile Swimmers are using the skills we taught them to save lives makes me very proud.

Please describe the relationship between women and water in the communities in which you work?

Whereas in the UK women come into contact with water mostly in pursuit of leisure, in Sudan, it is a daily part of life. Water for drinking, cooking and cleaning all comes from the Nile. Washing clothes, washing pots and washing yourself all happen in the river. Women in some rural communities wade across the river every day to reach islands where the mud has made the soil fertile for growing the crops they need to feed their families. They are fully clothed as they cross the river with bundles of food and tools on their heads in water that can come up to their shoulders. It is no surprise that everyone in Sudan knows someone who has drowned.

Female Participants on the Nile Swimmers training course

Female Participants on the Nile Swimmers training course

How does gender impact on drowning prevention and the training that you provide?

Drowning is a really simple problem, but there is not a single simple solution. The best way to prevent fisherman drowning is not the best way to prevent toddlers drowning. Gender has a huge impact. The way that men and women interact with water in low and middle income countries is very different so the prevention strategies have to be different too. Women also play a crucial role in preventing children drowning as they are normally the primary care giver. In Sudan, there are still a lot of social barriers to what women are allowed to do.

The women on the March programme had fought long and hard for this training and because of that, they were all really keen to learn and determined to make use of every second. They have been some of the most active participants in teaching water safety since March. They are determined to change the drowning problem in Sudan, even if it means battling against societal norms.

How can people get involved and support Nile Swimmers?

There are plenty of ways that you can support Nile Swimmers. As a small charity, we are always in need of extra people to help out so if you have any experience in water safety, coaching or teaching swimming or lifesaving, and you fancy joining them as a trainer, you can fill in their volunteer form at www.nileswimmers.org/volunteer. If that’s not quite your cup of tea but you have other skills that you think Nile Swimmers could make use of, whether fundraising, social media or raising awareness, contact us at www.nileswimmers.org/contact.

Maybe Nile Swimmers could be the push you need to spur you in your next challenge. Perhaps you could swim a mile for the Nile! It is very easy to link a sponsorship page to Nile Swimmers on justgiving.com or if you simply want to donate to Nile Swimmers and the fantastic work they do you can do that at www.nileswimmers.org/donate.

You can also follow Nile Swimmers on Facebook and Twitter.

How has your relationship with water developed over the years? 

I grew up abroad, mostly in sunnier countries than the UK, so swimming was a huge part of my childhood. I trained with the school team three times a week and still spent all weekend messing around in the pool with my brother. At university, I moved from competing in lifesaving competitions, to coaching, then to running international exchanges for teenagers, and finally into international development with Nile Swimmers, all the time working as a volunteer.

At the same time, I had focussed my chemical engineering degree on water and wastewater so when I graduated I landed a job with Thames Water. These days, water forms the basis of my career and my volunteering work! Of course, I still swim too. I find that being the water is a great way to relax and unwind.

What next?

I will be going out to Sudan again at the end of September to help run the next set of Nile Swimmers training courses. We hope that by the end of the year, we will have 100 Aquatic Survival Programme Instructors who, with the permission of the Minister for Education, will go into every school in Khartoum to teach basic water safety messages. That would allow us to reach approximately 4 million children.

My next personal challenge is swimming the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) Dart 10k at the beginning of September, which is easily the furthest I have ever swum! Of course, I’ll be using the opportunity to raise money for Nile Swimmers too!

You can sponsor Becky here.

Becky in her (second) favourite swimming costume

Becky in her (second) favourite swimming costume

And finally, where’s your favourite swim spot and what’s your favourite swimming costume and why?

I love swimming outside, so in the summer, I’ll be at the Tri2O Swim Centre just outside Reading most weeks. If I’m not training, my favourite place for a dip is in the Thames, next to Pangbourne Meadows, not far from where I live. It’s a relaxing spot to float and watch the clouds!

My favourite swimming costume is a bright pink Speedo number with multi-coloured swirls all over it and words like “Happy” and “Yummy”. I love bright colours and I’m always happy when I’m in the water so it pretty much does what it says on the tin!

Thank you Becky Sindall – enjoy the Dart and good luck and thank you for inspiring us with all your wonderful work with Nile Swimmers!

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

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