Update: 20:38 | 14/07/2020
Amid talk of countless drownings, a physical education teacher in central Vietnam decided to harness his skills to prevent further avoidable tragedies.
Every afternoon at four, groups of local children in Hai Lang District of Quang Tri Province gather at an irrigation canal of Hai Hung Commune to join a swimming class run by Nguyen Viet Tuoc, 45, a PE teacher at local Hai Vinh Primary and Secondary School.
The canal is around five meters wide, and an adult can easily stand midstream with shoulders and head above water. To assist lessons, Tuoc had three bamboo trunks placed across the expanse.
A group of students watch their peers take on the water at an irrigation canal in Hai Hung Commune, Hai Hung District, Quang Tri Province in June 2020.
As the class begins, a group of six to eight kids hold onto the bamboo and practice kicking with their feet, plashing water all over Tuoc's face.
Following the warm-up, different groups practice swimming short distances between bamboo trunks until the sun sets at around 6 p.m.
Eight years ago, Tuoc was compelled to start the free swimming classes after learning of the many drowning related deaths in the vicinity.
"The victims were all my students," he said.
After scouting several lakes in the area, which he found unsuitable, the PE teacher finally chose the irrigation canal, ideal because of its clean water, steady flow and safe depth.
Nguyen Viet Tuoc (wearing blue cap) instructs children on how to swim in an irrigation canal of Hai Hung Commune, Hai Hung District, Quang Tri Province, June 2020.
"At first, not many parents dared send their kids over, but after a few classes, they could not argue with the rapid progress," Tuoc said.
During the course, besides learning the correct way to swim, kids are also taught to stay away from the water and scream for help when witnessing a drowning, instead of attempting a solitary rescue. Each student normally attends 10 to 15 sessions before being able to swim proficiently over a distance of 10 to 15 m.
For the past several years, an average 160 to 180 children, mostly primary students, attend Tuoc's course each summer, with around 1,500 now capable swimmers.
The PE teacher is no longer alone in providing for each lesson, with parents and several volunteers now also chipping in with equippment or snacks.
Sitting on the bank to watch his second and fourth-grade grandchildren, Nguyen Duc Nghia, 70, said he appreciated Tuoc's concerted efforts as a swimming coach.
"Thanks to the class, local kids now know how to swim and survive the many floods that hit the area," he said.
Alongside other central provinces, Quang Tri suffers serious floods due to rain, especially in late summer.
Having joined the course over three consecutive summers, Nguyen Huy Hoang, a fifth grader, said: "I know how to swim now thanks to Tuoc. I also know what to do in case I see a friend drowning."
After eight summers, Tuoc is happy to report Hai Hung Commune has recorded zero cases of child drownings.