British national Graham Buckley has spent the last decade offering free swimming lessons to children in Hue, where he lives happily with his wife, Hoang Thi Lieu.
As the founder and director of Hue Help, a non-profit organization that provides free swimming classes to schoolchildren in Hue, as well as training sessions for swim coaches, Buckley has helped thousands of children stay afloat.
According to the provincial People’s Committee, the organization has given lessons to more than 3,000 students and 100 primary school teachers in Hue, a city in central Thua Thien-Hue Province, since 2016.
Now, with support from local authorities, Hue Help hopes to expand its mission to reduce drowning deaths in the summer and rainy seasons through a new project called the Swimming for Safety Initiative.
The organization's work has been lauded on Hue’s official website, which stated that provincial leaders "acknowledge Hue Help for creating practical activities for children in Thua Thien-Hue over the years."
The appreciation is reciprocal. Buckley himself knows that much of his organization's success is due to support from the provincial People’s Committee, whom he thanks for their help so he and his wife "can keep doing [their] favorite thing in Hue for a few more years."
Buckley was working for a charity in Britain in 2006 when he was told he had been assigned to Cham Islands in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam to offer swimming lessons to local children.
A last-minute change, however, landed him in Hue, where he would be teaching English to underprivileged children at the provincial Center for Adolescents and Children.
Though teaching came naturally to Buckley, swimming was his true passion and, when he found out many of the children in his classes did not know how, he felt it was his duty to help.
That, coupled with finding out that Vietnam topped Southeast Asia in terms of the number of child drownings each year, drove him to found Hue Help at the end of 2006.
He then contacted a swimming organization in the UK for aid in providing swimming lessons to underprivileged elementary-age students and swim instructor training for adults in the city.
Now, more than a decade later, Hue Help has taught over 11,000 K-12 students and about 500 teachers in Hanoi, Hai Phong City, and the provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, and Khanh Hoa.
"We dream of a day when no more children in Vietnam die from drowning," Buckley says.
To Buckley, that dream is worth more than any paycheck.
"As the director of Hue Help, I have been working without pay for ten years here already," he added, explaining that Hue Help was founded in the UK and, by UK law, the director of a voluntary organization is to receive no salary.
His income, he said, is earned through a company he founded in 2016 which also specializes in swimming-related training and first aid.
|Hue Help’s Swimming for Safety Initiative teaches local children the importance of water safety. Photo: Hue Help|
Both Buckley and his wife share a common love for Hue, a city they both say they had planned to settle down in even before they met.
For Buckley, a vegetarian since childhood, that love was sparked by the enormous variety of vegetarian restaurants in the central city. It is a "vegetarian paradise," he said.
His affection for Hue began during his first days in the city, when he was staying with a host family and their three sons.
Being treated as part of the family was such a touching experience that he quickly found himself falling in love with his surroundings.
"I originally didn’t intend to stay here for long, but slowly the city began to flow through my veins," Buckley said.
Perhaps part of his affection for Hue derives from the fact that it is where he met his wife, Hoang Thi Lieu, a native Hanoian who first visited Hue in her third year of university.
She fell in love with the city at first sight and even spent her last year in college working a part-time job to save up to move to Hue upon graduation.
When she finally moved to Hue, she found a job in a supermarket, where she worked for a short while before returning to Hanoi to work in the aviation sector.
In 2015, she saw a recruitment poster for Hue Help and contacted the organization. She met Buckley shortly after and, in October 2016, the two married.
"We both loved Hue before loving each other. It’s not that one chooses to stay in Hue for the other," she added.
The couple now have their plates full with an infant and plans to teach swimming to 1,000 elementary school children this year in Hue.
The organization is also drafting several other water safety projects in Hanoi and other provinces.
"Hue Help’s training program for swimming teachers and classes, and the knowledge it provides students regarding drowning, is highly practical," said Bui Thanh Dung, deputy director of the Thua Thien-Hue Department of Culture and Sports.
"Their projects are a success in many provinces, especially Thua Thien-Hue."
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