With the drowning of eight of its students in the Chaliyar fresh in memory, a school embarks on a swimming training programme.

On November 4, 2009, eight students of Subulussalam Higher Secondary School, Moorkanad, drowned in the Chaliyar when their overloaded ferry boat capsized. Within two years, the government constructed a hanging bridge across the river on the site of the tragedy. The government also made a promise to construct 50 bridges at different places in the State to replace the ferries used largely by students.

For the government, bridges are the only solution for the threat of drowning posed by the rivers and canals of Kerala. But not for institutions like the Subulussalam school.

Under the banner of the National Service Scheme (NSS), the school recently launched a unique project to help students take on the challenge posed by waterbodies. It has given shape to a swimming school and begun to take dozen-odd student batches to the mighty Chaliyar at Areekode for swimming lessons.

Two batches have already learned swimming in a couple of weeks and by the end of this academic year, all eighth standard students will be made to swim in the river.

The Subulussalam NSS move has apparently inspired many institutions in and around Malappuram district. A few have sought the advice of the NSS unit managers.

“People have begun to realise the importance of swimming in natural environs,” said O. Hameedali, NSS programme officer of the school.

Though several schools have taken up swimming lessons as part of their curriculum in the State, seldom have the students been taken to rivers or lakes of great depths and currents. Some high-profile schools have been maintaining swimming pools for their children.

Others have been making use of country ponds. “Swimming in a pond or pool is entirely different from swimming in a river. The latter equips the children to deal with nature in a better way,” Mr. Hameedali said.

Survey

It was the startling result of a survey the Subulussalam NSS unit conducted in the wake of the 2009 boat tragedy that opened the eyes of the school authorities. The survey conducted among the students found that more than 51 per cent of the eighth standard children did not know swimming despite their houses being along the banks of the Chaliyar.

“When 35 per cent of the boys did not know swimming, about 70 per cent of the girls were found to be afraid of water,” P. Noorul Ameen, faculty member, said.

The findings not only startled the school authorities but also opened their eyes to the fact that the process of urbanisation had been distancing the children away from Nature. Mr. Hameedali said: “Our future generations may have to learn about Nature's bounty like rivers, canals and lakes through textbooks and TV unless we do something drastic now. The children ought to be introduced to Nature in a more natural way. This will not only help children love Nature but also save rivers and canals from environmental degradation.”

Going by the Subulussalam experience, the higher the social position of a child's family the fewer the chances of swimming in the river. Many parents with financial stability had refused to send their children for swimming training at first. But soon the teachers succeeded in convincing such parents.

K.C. Raheem, an amateur swimmer from Areekode, has been training the students free. Mr. Raheem spends over an hour every evening to give swimming lessons to children. Senior students of the school also help Mr. Raheem.

“Our aim is to make the entire students of high school classes learn swimming in three years. This can be achieved by concentrating on the eighth standard,” Mr. Hameedali said.