On the 28th of January this year Becky Horsbrugh became the first British citizen to swim the 16km Bangla Channel from Teknaf to St. Martin’s Island, in just 4.45 hours. Back home in London, Becky works as a freelance TV and print journalist and is also a qualified swimming instructor.
She swam the channel to raise awareness of the ‘issue of drowning’ in Bangladesh and to raise funds for the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), who run the swim safe schemes here.
According to CIPRB figures, more than 40 children died every day in Bangladesh from drowning and it is the leading cause of child death for the under 14s. It was reading these statistics back home in the UK that prompted Becky to act. She first visited Bangladesh last summer to help with swim teaching at Sreepur Village, a British run charity.
She then returned to do the swim and in July this year made a further visit to spend more time with the CIPRB and also meet with the British High Commissioner, Alison Blake to discuss the issue.
Tarique Choyon caught up with her during her busy schedule:
Tarique Choyon: We know you are a journalist. When did you start swimming professionally or take it up as a hobby?
Becky Horsbrugh: Like many of my friends in the UK, I began swimming as a small child. My parents would take me swimming and at school we had lessons. But it was not a big hobby at all for me then. I don’t swim professionally! I am far from being good enough to do that. But about ten years ago I started to get more interested in swimming. I was doing triathlons and so would swim and cycle and run and I enjoyed keeping fit. Then one day I saw a swim advertised in Turkey across the Dardanelles and it was taking place 200 years after my favourite poet Lord Byron had also done the swim. I was immediately intrigued and decided to enter. It was a great experience and since then I have met many other people interested in swimming and it has become my main hobby. Around two years ago I also qualified to teach swimming so I could pass on my love of the water. I find swimming helps me both mentally and physically, even though I am not a particularly great swimmer. Just being in the water is enough.
Tarique Choyon: But you are a fabulous swimmer. You crossed the Bangla channel as the first British citizen…
Becky Horsbrugh: Yes, I did manage that. But I am not particularly fast or accomplished compared to many others I know. When I am at my local swimming pool I am a fairly average swimmer. However, I had the determination and focus to train and work hard so I was good enough to do this swim.
Tarique Choyon: What’s the secret of success in swimming?
Becky Horsbrugh: Training, technique, and fitness. I am not a brilliant swimmer but I did the right training for it. To achieve any goal you need to be focused. Sometimes you will have a bad day and feel deflated, but you have to pick yourself up and keep going.
Tarique Choyon: We want to know more about you though…
Becky Horsbrugh: For me, any media coverage is not about myself as a person. Yes, I did achieve something great. But the main reason I did the swim was to raise awareness of the huge issue of drowning in Bangladesh and to raise awareness of the swim safe schemes. That was the main motivation - not the swim itself. So I prefer that people learn about these, more than reading about me.
Tarique Choyon: You are a great person, I must admit. As we all know, you came to Bangladesh & took part in the event to raise awareness of ‘issue of drowning’ in Bangladesh…
Becky Horsbrugh: Absolutely. That is the whole reason I did it, to raise sponsorship for the CIPRB and educate people on the issue. I organised my campaign by myself. I just the swim and I got people to sponsor me for that. Once the swim was done the sponsorship ended and I gave what I raised to the CIPRB, which was just over 2000 pounds. The CIPRB informed me that was enough to teach over 800 kids to swim in Bangladesh, which was great to hear.
Tarique Choyon: So isn't it hard for you to Come Bangladesh & help the kids? I mean you need money for that…
Becky Horsbrugh: Yes of course. When I travel I have to pay for my trip and also I am not being paid by work when I am there, so I have to budget and plan well so I can visit and learn.
Tarique Choyon: You are doing a fantastic job indeed! Thank you very much once again, Becky. What do you think, awareness among Bangladeshi people about swimming is increasing?
Becky Horsbrugh: It is slowly from what I can see. But much work still needs to be done. These kinds of changes take time, generations. It is not something that will change overnight. But if the children now start to learn, it will start to create a legacy so hopefully drowning will not be a such a big issue for future generations.
Tarique Choyon: Are you doing similar work in the UK too or in any other country?
Becky Horsbrugh: Back home it is a different scenario. Still, more children need to learn to swim, but we do have better facilities. Most of my work is centred on Bangladesh as it is a country I hold close to my heart, but I am travelling to Zanzibar in Tanzania next month to help with a scheme there also. I am hoping this will give me more experience and training in drowning prevention work.
Tarique Choyon: I see. In previous interviews, you say you came to Bangladesh after reading an article about the ‘issue of drowning’ in Bangladesh?
Becky Horsbrugh: Yes. It’s true.
Tarique Choyon: There are some other countries where the death rate regarding drowning is high too!
Becky Horsbrugh: Yes.
Tarique Choyon: But why did you choose Bangladesh first?
Becky Horsbrugh: It was the first place I read about and also at the time I was specialising in Asia as a journalist so it seemed fitting. At the same time, I also read about Sreepur Village and its British connections and felt compelled to visit there. So it seemed a perfect way to help.
Tarique Choyon: Do you think Bangladeshi poor kids are enthusiastic enough to learn swimming? How do they take it?
Becky Horsbrugh: I guess so. I don’t know! But most kids like swimming. It’s fun.
Tarique Choyon: Social awareness or government initiative which is more effective to decrease the rate of drowning?
Becky Horsbrugh: You need a mixture of both for it to be effective.
Tarique Choyon: Do you have any other particular plan for Bangladesh regarding this issue?
Becky Horsbrugh: I wish to continue my work, time and money allowing.
Tarique Choyon: Have you faced any problem in Bangladesh as a foreigner or any sort of discrimination as a woman?
Becky Horsbrugh: No, I haven’t at all. My experience when I am there is no different to that I have had in any other country I have visited really. I am always overwhelmed on every visit by how friendly and welcoming people are.
Tarique Choyon: What do you want to tell Bangladeshi people through this discussion?
Becky Horsbrugh: Swimming is a fundamental life-saving skill that every child and adult has the right to learn. It is important parents make sure their children get a chance to learn; as important as learning maths or other school subjects.
Tarique Choyon, a Dhaka-based journalist, has claimed to take the interview of Becky Horsbrugh.