Improving life for refugees, one swim stroke at a time

Twenty-seven year old Syrian refugee Sophie arrived in Sydney in January this year with her family. She is now training to be a lifeguard. PHOTO: Supplied

Twenty-seven year-old Sophie is grateful she has been able to indulge her love of swimming since she arrived in Australia as a refugee from war-torn Syria in January this year.

Thanks to the swimming classes provided through the Refugee Welcome Centre in Lilyfield, Sophie has been honing her aquatic skills. A strong swimmer, she now hopes to become a lifeguard on Sydney’s beaches.

“I’m so excited about improving my skills and learning how to swim professionally and hopefully become a lifeguard,” Sophie told The Catholic Weekly.

“I like swimming, it’s my hobby. We used to go to the pool back in Syria. Sometimes we would go to the sea but it was a little far. We had to travel four hours to get there.”

The swimming program for refugees and asylum seekers has proved highly beneficial to participants, according to Moones Mansoubi, Coordinator of the Refugee Welcome Centre.

“We’ve received wonderful feedback about the swimming program, how it has helped them to feel good, happy and safe,” Ms Mansoubi said.

The Refugee Welcome Centre situated in Callan Park, Lilyfield, officially opened last year as the result of a partnership between the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace Office, Settlement Services and the Inner West Council. The Sydney Archdiocese provides funding for the Centre through Archbishop Fisher’s Syrian Refugee Appeal.

Ms Mansoubi said the Centre is running several programs for refugees and asylum seekers and the swimming classes—the result of a grant from the Inner West Council—have proved particularly successful.

“Water has this impact on people. They love it. They see that they are doing something meaningful, learning how to swim.”

The swimming program began in February this year and classes run each week at Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre according to school terms. The classes attract about 10 to 15 participants each week.

Ms Mansoubi said helping refugees become more confident in the water is important for their integration into Australian society since going to the beach or swimming pool is a major part of Aussie culture.

“We thought it would be a really good program to make them familiar with Australian culture and also help them know how to navigate beaches.”

“We also have beach safety workshops for them so now they are familiar with different flags at the beach and all the instructions they receive when at the beach.”

Sophie, who studied biotechnology at university, came to Australia with her family after the situation in Syria became too dangerous.

At one point a bomb exploded on their family home. Fortunately nobody was injured.

Several of the refugees taking part in the swimming program are now training to become lifeguards.

Sophie said she is excited about the prospect of being able to work as a lifeguard at Australian beaches and pools.

“If I get a licence to be a lifeguard it will be an additional qualification and then I can get a job doing something I love.”

Ms Mansoubi said the fact that refugees like Sophie are bilingual means they will be extra valuable as lifesavers on Australian beaches.

“It is really important that we have bilingual lifeguards because Australia is multicultural so if we have bilingual lifeguards at the beach or pools it will really help.”

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