River safety, a vital community service
by Geneve Tan
Dayang Normala Bt Awg Bema is a veteran mobile dental nurse who has been working with the Dental Department, Sarikei for more than 30 years, and has always been afraid of entering the water.
Isn’t it ironic that as part of her job, she needs to spend 6 to 10 months a year traveling on the rivers in longboats to rural schools in Sarikei and Mukah to provide dental services, but yet still fears being on the water?
As part of the Sarawak Inland Waterway Transport (SIWT) System Study’s Education and Awareness Programme, making river safety a vital community service, UNDP and Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) conducted basic river safety, rescue and CPR/First Aid training for about 500 rural school children and community members from July to December 2007, including 40 dental nurses and attendants in Sarikei.
- As part of the Study's Education and Awareness Programme, UNDP and Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) conducted basic river safety, rescue and CPR/First Aid training for about 500 rural school children and community members, including 40 dental nurses and attendants in Sarikei.
- Approximately 1,000 rural school children and community members were trained in basic river safety.
Like Dayang Normala, we found that there were many others who were not well informed of basic river safety guidelines, nor did they know how to effectively use their lifejackets they were provided with by the Ministry. I recalled Dayang Normala panicked when she first got into the water and refused to go in again. But at the end of the one-day training programme, it was heartening to see her, together with the other inexperienced swimmers moving comfortably in the water with their lifejackets.
To build public confidence in river transport, UNDP and SRB target to increase partnerships with government agencies and the private sector with the hopes of bringing better healthcare, amenities and services to the general rural communities, especially these who depend solely on the rivers for access.
It has been estimated that over 600,000 people in Sarawak depend on the rivers for transportation to schools, clinics, workplaces, marketplaces, banks and entertainment centres. The government aims to enhance the quality of life of Malaysians, including Sarawak’s riverine communities in the Ninth Malaysia Plan, 2006-2010. It is therefore rational for the people who depend on these rivers for their everyday needs to be empowered to make safe and smart choices
With the upcoming programme in Kapit and Song, UNDP-SRB aims to train up to 420 rural school children and community members with the participation of Bomba and Medical Department officers from Kapit/Song to achieve the target of training 1,000 persons by February 2008.