A SWIMMING teacher from Marlow is helping Sri Lankan women to conquer their lifelong fear of water and improve their chances of survival by teaching them to swim.

Christina Fonfe, 55, jetted off to Sir Lanka in February to work with the Aid Sri Lanka Foundation, a group of international volunteers, following the tsunami disaster.

Mrs Fonfe, who is based in the southern coastal town of Weligama, is teaching women teachers to swim in the hope that they can pass on their newly-learnt skills to school pupils.

She is currently teaching school teachers aged from 37 to 50 in the grounds of a private bungalow whose swimming pool is being let out by the owner.

Mrs Fonfe, of Henley Road, said: "It is tremendously successful. I think that for women who have never had the opportunity to go into a swimming pool or put on a bathing costume in their lives before, this is a relevation to them and they are so keen and enthusiastic."

Mrs Fonfe, who works at the Quad Club, Marlow, has also been teaching girls as young as 12 to swim, along with pupils at a local school with a population of 700.

Around 200 of these are said to have been caught up in the Boxing Day disaster.

Her efforts were prompted by an Oxfam report in March, which said that four times more women than men died in the tsunami in certain regions.

Mrs Fonfe said: "There is no doubt that if some of those people had had the ability to swim or at least to tread water there was a good chance that they could have survived.

"I think we have come at a time when people have accepted that fact and have allowed us to teach them."

Mrs Fonfe, whose son James starred in the reality TV show, Brat Camp, said it was partly down to cultural factors that many Sri Lankan women had not learnt to swim.

One reason is because it is not common practice for women to bathe in public.

Mrs Fonfe and with husband, Mike are looking to establish a charity to train Sri Lankan women to be the swimming teachers once she returns home this month.

Already more than 30 children and several teachers have received certificates for their progress in the water.

And one 21-year-old woman, Inki Abeyrathna, will be returning home to Marlow with Mrs Fonfe to take her ASA qualification, which will qualify her as a swimming teacher.