Swimming Lessons



Drowning, as stated by the World Health Organization, is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death around the world. Drowning is a growing concern and currently accounts for over 7% of all injury related deaths, and this number is only expected to increase overtime. Almost all families living near bodies of water have stories of both children and adults unexpectedly drowning. Whether collecting water, crossing rivers or playing near streams, too many people have entered bodies of water, and never returned. Every Individual, regardless of location, deserves the opportunity to learn how to swim and understand the safety precautions of entering bodies of water, to not only increase , but also decrease the number of deaths and injuries caused by drowning.

Individuals with greater access to water, specifically in African areas, are most at risk of drowning. Drowning death rates among countries in Africa are anywhere from ten to fifteen times higher than other countries around the world. Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, suffers from extremely high rates of drowning due to its geographic location. Surrounded by Lake Malawi and Lake Nyasa, Malawi has the second highest drowning rate in the world and is not only a common place for death by drowning, but also, large-scale floods. As seen by the Gapminder chart below, in 2004, about 15 in every 100,000 Malawians drowned, while about 1 in every 100,000 Americans drowned. Over 2,500 Malawians die every year from drowning, a rate that is 15 times higher than that of the United States.


We will be proposing and implementing ideas for drowning prevention and awareness, as well as advising future improvements to safe swimming and resuscitation techniques in Malawi. While our initial focus is on Malawi, drowning is a global problem that we plan to significantly diminish in all countries over time.


  1. Partner with the Malawi Aquatic Union to propose a plan to diminish drowning in the Country
  2. Educate the population on the importance of learning how to swim
  3. Implement a program that allows the athletes trained by the Malawi Aquatic Union to teach local residents how to swim on a weekly basis
  4. Implement a swimming school system that is modeled after Malawi’s current school system
  5. Provide the children and adults of Malawi with the information necessary to learn survival swimming and basic swimming skills
  6. Teach revised CPR regulations and resuscitation techniques to residents of Malawi: C-A-B (chest compression, airway, breathing) & supplies (mask, gloves, Automatic External Defibrillator)
  7. Place proper safety equipment near bodies of water in Malawi: Lane lines for safe swimming areas, caution signs for awareness
  8. Create visual representations of proper swimming techniques for the residents of Malawi to ensure easy learning
  9. Encourage Hotel’s in Malawi to provide their aquatic facilities, one a week, for a swimming program
  10. Have Hotel’s in Malawi participate in a “day of service” and allow children to swim in their areas of Lake Malawi and/or pools
  11. Respect Malawi’s customs and culture when working with residents
  12. Preform annual or biannual checkups to observe use/negligence of our efforts


Finding an NGO that will primarily focus on the prevention of drowning and the safety of swimming proved to be difficult. However, we did find a group that provides swimming lessons in Malawi. The Malawi Aquatic Union was founded in 2000 and has been operating ever since. The organization has swimming lessons that train Malawian’s to become competitive swimmers, allowing them to participate in world-wide competitions. We are working with them, on the hopes of being able to utilize their resources to help our cause and their fellow people.


The goals of the Malawi Aquatic Union include:

  • To prevent drowning tragedies in Malawi
  • To provide health exercise and recreation for all
  • To foster and develop talent in all aquatic disciplines
  • To add another level of competition for local sportsmen and women
  • To take Malawi into the international scene at both high school and international level
  • To develop and improve facilities

We are working to help the Malawi Aquatic Union accomplish their goal of preventing drowning tragedies in Malawi. The Malawi Aquatic Union is affiliated to FINA (International Swimming Federation), CANA (African body governing swimming), the Malawi Olympic Committee and the Malawi National Council of Sports. The organization has coaches (local residents) that have been trained through the FINA development program, a prerequisite to compete in the Olympics. While the organization focuses primarily on developing competitive swimmers, we would like to encourage the organization to place an equal amount of effort on teaching the general population of Malawi to swim and face their fears of swimming.




We have contacted the Malawi Aquatic Union to understand what efforts the organization has put forth to prevent drowning tragedies in Malawi. The Malawi Aquatic Union has placed most of its efforts on training talented Malawians to become competitive swimmers, and minimal effort on the general population. Fortunately, because of the organization’s efforts, there are many local residents of Malawi who are qualified to teach other Malawians how to swim.

Our goal is to encourage the Malawi Aquatic Union to use trained Malawian swimmers to teach the general population how to swim in a culturally appropriate manner. We are working with the Malawi Aquatic Union to figure out the best way to establish a swimming lessons program in Malawi. The members of the organization have agreed that having fellow Malawians instruct the majority of the swim courses would be the most culturally sensitive approach, however, we need to find a group of extremely dedicated and motivated individuals, who are willing to volunteer their time and effort to the program. We would like to establish classes that teach swimming, CPR and resuscitation techniques.


With the help of the Malawi Aquatic Union, we are contacting hotels along the shore of Lake Malawi for their assistance with our swimming program. We are hopeful that these hotels will allow us to use their aquatic facilities, whether areas of Lake Malawi or pools, to host weekly swimming lessons. We will be flexible with the times and days the hotels will allow us to use their facilities, as we expect to use them free of charge. We have narrowed the Hotel locations to Cape Maclear, on the northern side of Lake Malawi, and Nkhata Bay, on the southern end. These two locations are popular tourist locations, and therefore have many hotels that can assist us in implementing this project. Once we have secured the location for swim lessons, we will hire a local bus company to pick up children in neighboring villages and drive them to and from the hotel.


Additionally,if the hotels are willing to do so, we would like to encourage them to host community swim days. Community swim days will consist of hotels opening up areas of Lake Malawi and pools to the general Malawian population for several hours. Apart from consistent swimming lessons, this is a way to help Malawians become more comfortable with water. With the help of the hotels, their staff, and the Malawi Aquatic Union, we believe we can help a significant number of Malawians learn to swim and overcome the fear of swimming.



In the past, the Malawi Aquatic Union has tried to set up swim days along Lake Malawi for local residents, but received little attendance because they did not properly explain the value of learning how to swim to local communities. We have taken this failure into consideration, and moving forward, we will alter our approach to communicating with Malawians to best promote the swimming program. Before we begin any swimming lessons, we will educate students on the necessity to learn survival swimming skill, CPR regulations and resuscitation techniques in a country that has such high drowning rates.

In order to make our swimming lessons program a reality, we will need sufficient funding to purchase supplies and transportation.

Expenses of the program:
1. Plane tickets to send our group members, from America, to launch the program in Malawi
2. Equipment

  • Goggles
  • Swimming boards
  • Swim attire
  • Safety tubes (for life guards)
  • CPR and resuscitation equipment
  • etc.

3. Bus Rentals to shuttle the Malawian people to the pool or lake in which we have our swimming lessons
4. Caution signs for dangerous swimming areas

In total we will need around $20,000 to begin our development project.


When working with a NGO to implement a swimming program in a foreign country, it is important that we consider aspects of the country’s culture. Issues such as traditional dress, education, and gender status must be considered to create a culturally sensitive swimming program.

National Dress:

  1. Men
    • No specific national dress for Malawian men
    • Mainly wear western clothes such as jeans and t-shirts
    • Dominant Sex
  2. Women:
    • Traditionally wear a Chitenje: Large sarong, often with an elaborate pattern or design
    • Matching head cloth and blouse
    • Very Conservative



  • Hand-shakes are most common
  • Anyone who is younger or slightly lower in social standing may bow slightly
  • Younger people often also rest one hand on the other as a sign of extra respect


  • English
  • Chewa
  • Tumbuka (Northern Region)


  1. Nursery Education
    • Extremely limited
    • The government is working on investing in pre-schools
    • Some private nurseries for those that value education and have monetary assets
  2. Primary Education
    • Begins at 5 years old
    • Eight Grade levels
    • Children must pass exams to go to next grade level
    • Free but not mandatory
    • Shortage of teachers and teacher training schools
    • Schools have little equipment, some do not have classrooms
  3. Secondary Education
    • Extremely competitive to get into a state run secondary school
    • Private schools are available but very expensive
    • Completion provides graduates with a Malawi School Certificate in Education (MSCE)
  4. University Education
    1. Extremely limited
    2. Small universities in some of the major cities
    3. Must get certain grades and pass an entrance exam to be accepted
    4. Completion greatly increases chances of employment





Many Malawians fear bodies of water and swimming for multiple different reasons. The largest aspect is that almost everyone living in the country either knows someone who has drowned or has had members of his or her own family drown. The extremely high drowning statistics contribute to, and are a main factor of, the fear that most Malawians have in regards to swimming. Due to this fear, many Malawians have never learned how to swim properly. The stigma against swimming is one of the main challenges that our group faces to over come. We feel that even giving Malawians the confidence to stay calm in water, through swimming lessons, will drastically decrease the drowning rates in Malawi.

Another huge factor of the stigma against swimming is parents making up superstitions about water being a site for witchcraft or sea monsters and instilling fear in drowning in order to keep children from going near bodies of water. These superstitions have been passed down for many generations, and began during the era of enslavement, when the sea represented danger. Africans were taken on slave ships, and many were captured near bodies of water. Due to slavery, Africans were kept from establishing a swimming culture. Superstitions regarding the dangers of swimming have been passed on for years and will be a huge challenge to overcome when helping Malawians gain confidence in swimming.

We want to be sensitive to Malawians concerns, yet help them battle their fears of swimming. Through achieving our goal of educating the population on the importance of learning how to swim and ending the drowning issue in the country, we believe that we can successfully implement a swimming lessons program in Malawi and have many local residents supportive of our efforts.




Apart from helping Malawians overcome their fears of swimming, there are other risks and challenges associated with implementing a swimming lessons program in Malawi, that must be addressed.

1. Swimming is a huge safety liability and our program requires supervision

  • Since we would like the program to be primarily run by Malawian citizens, we need to make sure that those in charge understand the risks associated with being responsible for the safety of a group of individuals. We need the students learning how to swim to be in good hands.

2. We are afraid that hotels will not cooperate with the swimming programs needs

  • Since we are asking hotels to provide their facilities at no charge, for several hours a week, they might ask for some form of compensation as time goes by. We are hopeful that our program will experience enough growth and recognition within Malawian communities, that Malawians themselves will be willing to put on shows or some form of entertainment for the hotel guests. Instead of providing monetary compensation to hotels for the use of their aquatic facilities, we can offer them free entertainment for guests that show a touch of Malawian culture.

3. We need to be respective and sensitive of the Malawian culture in order to achieve full effectiveness of the program

  • Malawi is very male dominated, and we need to make sure the swim instructors of our program are well respected
  • Malawian women are very conservative, and we need to ensure they will feel comfortable in swim attire
  • Since many Malawians are fearful of swimming, we need the swim instructors to be patient and understanding of the students concerns

4. The students need to listen to and be respectful of the swim instructors to make the program a success

  • We want the swim class to embody the current school system in Malawi. Since school teachers in Malawi are well respected, we believe that by incorporating aspects of the Malawian school system into the swimming program, the swim instructors will also be well respected. We will have swim instructors conduct skill assessments, and the students must pass them to reach the next level.

5. We are afraid that the natives will feel threatened by our presence and find no interest in the program

  • We have taken the suggestions and failures of the Malawi Aquatic Union into consideration to battle this concern. We will have Malawian citizens conduct the lessons so Malawians do not feel threatened and educate students on the importance of learning how to swim to decrease drowning rates in the country to increase interest in the program.

6. While English is the primary language in Malawi, we still expect language barriers

  • When the program is first launched, and when we visit Malawi for check-ups, we need to make sure we have an English speaker present. We will be present during someone of the swim lessons and need to achieve good communication with the students and instructors.

7. We need to find a reliable contact in Malawi

  • While we have been in contact with the Malawi Aquatic Union, we have had difficulty maintaining constant communication. We are looking to find a member of the Malawi Aquatic Union, who is available and willing to help us set up our swimming lessons program in Malawi.


We envision the swim program to be a comfortable learning environment and bring value to the Malawian community. We believe by immersing ourselves in their culture, we can gain their trust and create a successful swimming program. We are a group of five diligent researchers and problem solvers, and by following the Cal Poly “Learn by Doing” motto, we will learn how to further sidestep the potential problems of our program and achieve our goals, through personal experiences and observations in Malawi. While there are several issues that could be detrimental to our success, we are prepared to face them and understand that any development project requires time, patience and motivation.




Before the swimming lessons program can begin, we have much more preparation and finalization of details that must be completed.

  1. Finalize the location of the swim program
  2. Maintain constant communication with the Malawi Aquatic Union
  3. Find an affordable bus company in Malawi to shuttle students to and from the swimming lessons
  4. Find eligible and responsible Malawians to teach the lessons
  5. Create interest in the program
  6. Receive enough funding to start the program

We want to see success in Malawi! We want Malawians to stay safe in water and learn CPR and resuscitation techniques in case of emergency.


Starting and maintaining a swimming lessons program in Malawi is definitely a challenging and time consuming task. However, we definitely see huge potential for such a program to succeed in Malawi. Going forward, we understand that further education of the Malawian culture for our group members, education on appropriate teaching techniques for swimming instructors and education on the importance of combating drowning for Malawian communities, are all necessary before the implementation of the program. Once we successfully educate the stakeholders of the program (Our group, swimming instructors, the Malawian community, the Malawi Aquatic Union, etc.) and achieve the 6 steps above, our swimming lessons program will be ready to launch.

Luckily, there are Malawians who are qualified to teach swimming and CPR courses, however we will need to do more research, similar to what we have done with our research on Malawi, before making our swimming lessons program a global effort. Other countries and communities may not have organizations like the Malawi Aquatic Union who train swimmers consistent with international swimming standards. Once we see success in Malawi, we want to help other countries with high drowning rates diminish the effects of drowning.

Class Presentations:

Drowning in Malawi Presentation 1




Contact Information

Brett Avedisian: Third year Physics student from Fresno, CA and plans to graduate during the 2016/17 school year.
Email: bavedisi@calpoly.edu

Polina Mandrusov: Fourth year [[#|Business Accounting]] student from Campbell, CA, planning to graduate in spring of 2015.
Email: pmandrus@calpoly.edu

Ryanne Born: Fourth year Child Development student from San Rafael, CA, planning to graduate in Spring 2015.
Email: rmborn@calpoly.edu

Cameron Rosetta: Third year Business Finance/Economics Student from Rancho Murieta, CA, planning to graduate in Spring 2016.
Email: crosetta@calpoly.edu

Jordan Goldie: Third year AgriBusiness student from Riverside, CA, planning to graduate in Spring of 2016.
Email: jgoldie@calpoly.edu


Drowning facts:

CPR charts and [[#|diagrams]]:

WHO Drowning Fact Sheet:

CDC Drowning Facts:

WHO drowning:

Culture of Malawi:

Stigma Against Water:

Malawi Aquatic Union:

Pete Schwartz received on Sept 5, 2019 the following communication