JIANGSU, East China — Traveling along the main road in Gushan Town, there’s a body of water at almost every turn. Most residents of the town, located close to China’s mighty Yangtze River, have banned their children from playing in the water: The risk of them drowning while unattended is too high. Some even tell stories of sharks that live in the water, hoping to keep children from getting too close.
In China, drowning is the leading cause of injury death among children between the ages of 1 and 14, according to the World Health Organization. A total of 164 people drown in China each day, many of them kids who never learned how to swim.
The quickest fix is to install physical barriers around bodies of water, but that’s not always possible. In rural Jiangsu province, where washing rice and clothes by the river is part of daily life, teaching children how to swim and offering child care services for working parents are more effective ways of addressing the problem — but neither are common in the Chinese countryside, and pools built by local governments are usually located in urban areas.
One exception is Hongdou Village in Gushan Town, under the administration of Jiangyin City. In this rural area dominated by agriculture, peach farmer Shen Jianliang built a pool eight years ago and opened it to local children free of charge, creating both a de facto day care and a safe place where children can learn how to swim.