By Marianne David, in Canberra, Australia
The 2018 Water Safety Fellowship Program for Female Leaders featuring 13 Australia Awards Fellows from Sri Lanka and several participants from Bahrain commenced last week in Canberra, Australia.
Managed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), Australia Awards Fellowships are a part of Australia’s overseas aid program and provide opportunities for short-term study and professional development in Australia.
A welcome program was hosted at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra, with several distinguished guests and the Fellows and participants of the program in attendance.
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia Somasundaram Skandakumar welcomed the gathering, lauding the work done by lifesavers. “The work that you are doing is so noble and for someone like myself it has special meaning. You never really understand the impact of a tragic death until it happens to someone in your own family,” he said, sharing the story of how his elder brother lost his life in a tragic accident.
“It was the day on which he had probably surmounted the most challenging exam in his career as a chartered accountant. He went to the Hindu temple and at 8.00 p.m. he was walking across the road to get to our home, where my parents and all of us were getting ready for celebrations. A drunken lorry driver hit him on the pedestrian crossing and his life was gone,” recalled Skandakumar.
“What happened after that, the impact it had on my parents who just couldn’t understand how a moment of ecstasy had been transformed into one of abject agony that they had to carry with them thereafter... We only learned to live with it, we never really got over it.
“That’s why when I heard of the noble work you are doing and I reflected on those 1,100 lives that had been lost to drowning last year in our beautiful country, I said to myself: ‘Are we doing enough?’ Then when Life Saving Victoria CEO Mevan Jayawardena explained the work you are doing, I thought to myself, ‘What could be more appropriate than for us to host an afternoon in the mission to tell you how much we appreciate what you are doing and assure you of whatever support we can give you?’ I welcome my dear fellow Sri Lankans who came in from Colombo just yesterday.”
Life Saving Victoria (LSV) President Tom Mollenkopf, addressing the gathering, stated: “The program the Fellows are embarking on will be rewarding for them and for those involved in lifesaving. With support from the International Life Saving Federation (ILS), we are proud to support two countries here today – Sri Lanka and Bahrain.”
Asserting that Australia had a long, strong and proud history of lifesaving, Mollenkopf said the work of lifesaving was a passion and a joy which was very rewarding.
“This program is an opportunity to develop goodwill and ultimately to save lives. The two countries here today represent excellent case studies. We have been working with Sri Lanka for over eight years and we have made significant progress in developing capacity and capability in lifesaving. Over 1,000 people have participated in lifesaving training with Life Saving Victoria as a result of the partnership between LSV and Sri Lanka Life Saving (SLLS).”
Mollenkopf said that the Sri Lankan program was developed as a grassroots program which had grown to achieve significant leadership support – and it was not all one-way traffic. “Life Saving Victoria has benefited significantly from the relationship in terms of the experience provided to our young leaders and the ongoing research collaboration and opportunity to test ourselves in a different environment,” he affirmed.
Tracing the roots of the program, former SLLS President Sanath Wijayaratne said despite having a lifesaving history of over 70 years, the organisation had not been moving in the right direction, but in
2009 they had started moving forward with LSV.
“We received support from everyone and thought of taking immediate and effective action to save lives in Sri Lanka. We finally had the right departments and the right numbers and started working on a national plan. The next step was diversification as the engagement from females was not great. Mevan pushed me to get more female leaders, following which we were informed of this program by DFAT. Today we are here with 13 females representing professional organisations and we look forward to seeing them getting involved in addressing this burning issue in Sri Lanka.”
International Life Saving Federation President Graham Ford lauded DFAT, asserting that DFAT’s assistance in programs, “particularly this very special program,” was fantastic.
Speaking about ILS, he said that ILS was a family with over 100 countries and a very strong commitment to lifesaving that went back a long way. Commenting on the Sri Lanka program, he said: “What’s being developed in Sri Lanka is models in terms of best practice, which advocate getting more safety strategies into lots of countries. It’s important to get water safety strategies into lower middle income countries where 90% of drowning incidents occur.”
ILS has partnered the World Health Organisation, which released its report on drowning recently, revealing that 360,000 people drown each year globally. Ford noted that this was probably an under-representation since it excluded those who had drowned in water-related disasters such as floods and tsunamis. An estimated 1,200 people drown in Sri Lanka each year, making it the second highest cause of death in the country. To date, SLLS has saved over 5,000 lives.
(Daily FT Deputy Editor Marianne David is a Fellow of the 2018 Water Safety Fellowship Program for Female Leaders.)