Our son, Dominic is in Form 3 (grade 9). The school he currently attends is a very expensive school by Fijian standards, Suva Christian Community High School. It is a beautiful school housed in an old church building. The school has just built a new science lab, the facilities are clean, and the education is unique. It is a small school with less than 100 students from form 3 to form 7. Because of the size of the school, they do not offer any inter-school sports, as there are no teachers to coach teams, and to field a team in any age group would be difficult given the numbers. They also do not participate in swimming as an organised activity. At the primary school they do, but at the High School, they don’t. Kids can compete in the inter school swimming, but only if they are members of an outside school club. This is a bit sad, as the High School is at Laucala Beach and very close to the National Swimming Centre’s 50m pool.
It is also sad, as the drowning statistics in Fiji are horrific. The drowning rate here is seven times the rate in Australia.
“FIJI has recorded the highest drowning rate per capita with a total of 75 lives being lost from water-based activities last year.
And the Water Safety Council of Fiji Steering Committee confirmed that this drowning figure was more compared to Australia that has a population of 22.8million as of September last year.
Committee convenor John Philip revealed this in an interview yesterday saying the drowning per capita rate used to be 4.5 times worse than Australia. However, he said last year, it was almost seven times worse.” Source: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=231902
“STATISTICS show there were 270 drowning deaths in Fiji between 2008 and 2012, and that last year’s figure was the highest at 75 cases.
Speaking at the International World Water Safety Day celebrations in Suva yesterday, Minister for Youth and Sport Commander Viliame Naupoto said the drowning toll recorded so far for this year was 11.
He said seven drowning-related deaths were recorded during the first 22 days of this year alone.
“The harsh reality of these drowning fatalities is that 25 children under the age of 10 were left unsupervised in or around water,” Cdr Naupoto said.
“I would like to reverse this trend with a different twist and create a different set of statistics that read three lives saved every day through successfully learning how to swim.
“That would mean that we will have a target of 1095 able swimmers for this year.”
He said drowning was preventable and those dedicated to water safety knew there was no magic bullet to prevent drowning and that people needed to follow water safety steps.
“A lack of awareness of water safety, particularly in relation to our children, is an issue that can bring tragedy to anyone, anywhere and at any time.
“Keeping watch and being vigilant is the key to eliminating child drowning and preventing new drowning.” The WHO estimates that 388,000 people die through worldwide every year.” Source: http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=228002
Drowning is not an issue for only toddlers or infants. Drowning is an issue is particular in High School age children, through to adulthood, according to the 2012 Drowning Report of the Australian Royal Life Saving Society 2012. Source: http://www.royallifesaving.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/4002/2012-Drowning-Report.pdf
Drowning is a preventable death. It is only preventable if children (and adults) learn swimming, life saving and survival techniques (such as floating or treading water), and resuscitation skills. How will they learn if not incorporated as compulsory in the school curriculum?
One would assume (or I did at least) that since Fiji is a nation of islands, that Fijians as a group would know how to swim. This is not the case at all. One rarely sees Fijians swimming in the ocean. There are only two pools in Suva. The Olympic Pool in Suva City, right near the water front is only open from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 6pm on Saturday. Even if kids or adults wanted to train in the mornings, they couldn’t. If you visit the pool on any given day, you could literally fire a gun, and not risk hitting anyone!
There is also the Damodar City Aquatic Centre (at the National Fitness Centre).
There are, as far as I know in fact no other public pools in Fiji. I also do not know of any school that has their own pool. If I am wrong, I welcome your feedback.
Why is the risk of drowning over the age of 15 years much higher than before that age? Is it because at this age, compulsory school swimming is not a priority, and that over 15 years the parents assume that the kids have learned to swim by osmosis, and leave them unsupervised to play with their friends?
In April this year, one of Fiji’s great leaders and chiefs, Tui Macuata, a champion of the environment and conservation passed away by drowning. His fishing boat capsized. It was reported that his companions stayed with him for as long as they could. When the chief lost his strength, his companions prayed for him, then swam to shore to raise the alarm. The manner of his passing is tragic.
“They had gone fishing in the Tui Macuata’s 115-horsepower speed boat. He had just returned from Suva and when he wants to relax he comes to the village and goes fishing,” Mr Foster said. “Their boat started taking in water around 2am in the morning and the three had been sleeping. When Tui Macuata woke up he alerted the other two.”
According to Mr Foster, the boat capsized shortly afterwards. “They swam two kilometres from where they were. When they were swimming he informed his tavale (Ratu Peni Vulaca), that he was getting tired and weak; Tui Macuata was hanging onto his tavale’s Tee-shirt.
“They were fishing at the barrier reef where there are strong currents. The two prayed with him and continued swimming.” Source: http://www.fijisun.com.fj/?p=149828
The late Chief was only 57. I pose the following questions:
Was the chief fully clothed whilst trying to swim? Lifesaving training teaches you to take off as much clothing as possible in a survival situation.
Did the Chief’s companions know that a person who is drowning will try and hold on to the rescuer, and risk drowning them also? In a survival situation, talk to the swimmer and encourage them to float on their back, so that you can grip them under the chin, and the rescuer can then either tread water keeping the nose and mouth of the person above water, or holding the chin, sidestroke to safety. In extreme situations where the victim starts to panic, you can knock them out, and then grip them under the chin and tread water or side stroke to safety. In survival situations, a prayer may be a good calming device, but it did little to save the Chief so that he could continue his great work.
The late Chief received the 2006 Global Conservation Award. http://www.seaweb.org/getinvolved/oceanvoices/ratuaisea.php.
At the beginning of this blog, I was going to simply post a few photos of one of the elite schools in Suva City, Fiji, as a reflection of the state of education here. I got side tracked a bit, but my point is still the same I think.
Anyway, to continue, as there are no sports or swimming at our son’s High School, and he has successfully found his feet in Fiji after moving from Australia, we decided to search for another School. Last Friday, we had an appointment with one of the most prestigious schools in Fiji, Suva Grammar. On entering the school, I was shocked and dismayed at the state of the interior. The floors and walls are filthy. Tiles peeling off the floors, walls covered in the grime of maybe 20 years. It had a depressing atmosphere. I did not bother to visit the toilets. It made me think, as I often do when visiting other public buildings and campuses here. The toilets at the Fiji National University Koronivia Campus are third world. No toilet tissue, no soap, and the smell is overwhelming.
What are we teaching the young people destined to become leaders in Fiji and the Pacific? If we look at the state of Suva Grammar, are we teaching them that THIS IS THE BEST THAT YOU CAN EXPECT? THIS IS ALL THAT YOU ARE WORTH?
Why would we expect them to have pride in their education if we do not value them enough to keep it clean? Why would we expect that children would learn to swim if they are given no opportunity? Why are so few Fijians educated to tertiary level? Fijian tertiary enrollment numbers are 114th in the world per capita. If education at a prestigious school is not what they hoped, why would they be interested in further education? If Fijians are to be educated about environmental issues, where do we start?