British Man Dedicates Career to Saving Lives in Hue

Hue Help, established by Graham Buckley from the UK, has trained over 15,000 Hue children in swimming and safe rescue skills since 2006. In an interview with the Vietnam Times, the British director shares his action plans for Hue Help in drowning prevention work for Vietnamese children.
November 24, 2023 | 16:12

Can you give us more information about some current Hue-based projects of Hue Help?

The first program is Hue Children's Shelter, which has been operating in Hue since 2006. Currently, we provide extra education support, such as music classes, art classes, soft skills, life skills training, and other recreational activities. We also host trips in the summer outside of Hue like Hoi An or Phong Nha so that Hue's children can travel and experience other parts of the country.

Our activities are also about helping their transition into independence as young adults. Our programs provide university scholarships, working with each individual to understand what they want to achieve in life and helping support them in that transition period.

British Man Dedicates Career to Saving Lives in Hue
Graham Buckley (second from the right) at the Review Workshop for Child Drowning Prevention Program in Thua Thien Hue province in October 2023.

The second program of Hue Help is Swimming for Safety, providing children with swimming skills, water safety knowledge, and safe rescue skills through schools in Thua Thien Hue province to help keep children safe from drowning.

What distinguishes Hue Help from other organizations in Hue that provide swimming instruction and children's shelters?

Hue Help started a group of volunteers and local professionals who worked at a children's shelter. The whole organization started because of our experience volunteering with children. We saw a specific need for supporting children through our projects so it was a very organic and natural process.

There are other nonprofits and local organizations that work on water safety for children and children's shelters in Hue. For example, there is the Norwegian Church Aid to Vietnam, a fairly large NGO operating in Thua Thien Hue for a long period. They also partnered with us to run swimming lessons. Where there is ever duplication or there are opportunities to collaborate, we always seek those out.

Our main unique point is the special focus and knowledge on drowning prevention. Teaching swimming is something that is done all around the world. However, in low-resource areas, it is fairly new to the development sector. As we have become quite a specialist in that area, other organizations now choose to work with us closely for technical support.

So far, directly, we've trained over 600 swimming teachers, and now over 15,000 children in swimming and safe rescue skills. We've also trained over 40,000 children in water safety education as well.

What are the difficulties or advantages of operating in Hue?

Regarding the advantages, the authorities and the government here are very supportive of our work. We've had a very good working relationship with all of the authorities here since we began. Thanks to them, we have a very good, open, and collaborative working environment.

However, a lot of NGOs, both big and small, face a challenge with funding. The main challenge is to get funding for the long term, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the programs. The support for our Swimming for Safety program, for example, has changed over the years.

When facing such a challenge, we have to be flexible and keep looking for new opportunities to create partnerships. Also, we have to look for new ways to help local communities and school partners to become sustainable as well.

What are some of the most memorable stories during the implementations of the two projects in Hue?

At Children's Shelter, a young girl wanted to become a P.E. teacher. However, she wasn't accepted into universities because at that time she was considered to be too small and not tall enough for that. She was quite upset and disappointed, but through our partnership with Streets International, we were able to support her to get a scholarship to study there.

After graduating there, she worked at a large resort in Hoi An. That was when she got an invitation to go and work in Singapore in the hospitality sector. She is now very successful in her career. I think that story highlights the importance of our work. We work with children on an individual level to help find the best opportunities for them.

It's a very simple thing, but if the girl hadn't discovered that opportunity, then who knows? Her life could be very different and she could have missed out on this big opportunity.

And for the swimming program, we used to bring over trainers from the UK when we first started. It was done through our partnership with the Swimming Teachers Association in the UK.

However, over the years, we've trained local teachers to swimming trainers. We have one teacher in particular called Thuong, who's been working with us since 2011. Thuong was on our very first training course in Hue and now he is going all around Vietnam and training other teachers as well, under both the support from the Vietnamese Ministry of Labor and War Invalid and Social Affairs and other national projects. That is wonderful to see somebody like Thuong getting involved from this early stage, and keeping involved 12 years later.

What plans does Hue Help have for the next five years?

For our new five-year plan, the main objective is to continue to expand our drowning prevention work - the area in which we have the most expertise and experience.

Our first goal is to continue to support the National Drowning Prevention programs through the Ministry of Labor, War Invalid and Social Affairs, and Ministry of Sport, Ministry of Education and Training.

The second goal is to develop Hue as a model province for drowning prevention. That is important to us as we have been running swimming lessons and other drowning prevention activities here for 12 years. On the path towards sustainability, we hope Hue can become a model that other provinces can look to emulate as well.

My message about water safety for children is: Make sure to never go swimming alone, and make sure to get swimming lessons if you can. Especially, make sure that you always wear a life jacket when you're in or around the water.

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