Phạm Văn Vũ instructs a student on doing ground exercise.
Phạm Văn Vũ, 40, lives in Cẩm Tân Commune in Cẩm Thủy District, a mountainous area, where adults children have to use boats and cross bridges spanning the Mã River to get to work and school.
“Tragic drownings occur every year in Thanh Hóa Province because many people cannot swim and they lack survival skills. Therefore I decided to build a pool to teach local people who want to learn how to swim, especially small children,” he said.
Before building the pool, Vũ visited schools in the district to make a survey on the issue. He found only 5-7 per cent of students knew how to swim.
There was no swimming pool in the district and children needed swimming skills, he said, adding that one of his relatives had died of drowning.
Vũ said he faced numerous difficulties, particularly in terms of finance, in the beginning.
“We started building the swimming pool as soon as my house was finished in 2017. We had little money left so we had no choice but to borrow from our relatives and friends, even from the bank,” he recalled.
The couple’s monthly salary was nearly VNĐ12 million (US$515) but they had to repay more than VNĐ18 million ($773) to the bank.
To earn more money, Vũ has to do multiple jobs and he is still in debt.
Apart from teaching at Quý Lộc Secondary School, he installs electricity and water systems for local households and works at slaughterhouses.
During summer holidays, he works as a swimming instructor at swimming pools in Thanh Hóa City.
After two years of construction and receiving a licence from local authorities, the swimming pool was put into use last year.
Vũ contacted primary and secondary schools in the district to offer swimming lessons to outstanding students from disadvantaged families. As many as 200 such students have been taught to swim so far.
According to him, students should start learning how to swim as soon as possible.
First-grade students were at the right age to learn, but they often struggle to concentrate on the lessons, so it is not easy to teach them about co-ordination between the movements of the arms and legs and breathing.
Vũ lets the students get accustomed to the water on the first lesson by playing, then they do some ground exercises in the second. The students will swim in the water in the third lesson.
Normally, it takes between 5-10 lessons for the students to gain basic swimming skills.
In addition to providing free swimming lessons for students and people in difficult circumstances, the swimming pool is also available for rent for those who need it, letting local students train for swimming competitions.
Lê Đình Thế, an eleventh grader from Cẩm Thủy High School, one of Vũ's first students, lives close to the river and saw many drownings occur, so he wanted to learn to protect himself and be able to rescue others.
“I used to be afraid of water. However, I have overcome the fear with encouragement from teacher Vũ and my friends,” Thế said.
It took him six days to learn how to swim.
He boasts that now he swims very and can use four basic styles including front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.
“I have won several prizes at swimming competitions held at the district and provincial level,” he said, adding that he won two gold medals and one bronze at a recent provincial swimming contest.
Vũ is a good and enthusiastic teacher who always tries his best to support the students, Thế said.
With 20 years of experience teaching children to swim, Vũ has helped his charges win prizes at swimming contests. Nguyễn Vũ Châu Anh, one of his favourite students, won second prize at a national swimming contest in 2015.
Phạm Thị Nga, a ninth-grader from Cẩm Vân Secondary School, is another student he'll never forget.
Born in a family with financial difficulties, Nga is eager to learn and work hard.
Last year, when preparing for a provincial swimming contest, Vũ had to pick up Nga every day.
On the day of the contest, after realising she had forgotten her swimming suit, hat and glasses, Vũ has asked the organiser to postpone the meet for 15 minutes so he could buy necessities for her.
He also paid each student VNĐ50,000 a day to encourage them.
His efforts paid off as all of the students won medals in the contest, while Nga got two gold medals and one silver.
Phạm Hồng Đức, principal of Quý Lộc Secondary School, said as a physical education teacher, Vũ did not only do his regular duties but also enthusiastically participated in the school’s activities.
“Teacher Vũ plays an important role in training the school’s students to take part in sports events organised by the district or province.
"Thanks to his swimming expertise, Vũ has helped many of them win high prizes in swimming,” he said.
A group of the school’s students received six prizes including four first prizes, a second prize and a third prize in this year’s provincial swimming contest.
For Vũ, his biggest achievement is that nearly all students in his neighbourhood have mastered certain skills in the water, helping reduce drownings in the locality.
Drowning claims the lives of more than 2,000 children each year in Việt Nam, making it the country’s leading cause of deaths for people aged under 15, according to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
The rate of child drowning in Việt Nam is higher than in other Southeast Asian countries and 10 times higher than in some developed countries. VNS