Photographed above: Children from Hamilton’s Burundi community with VICSWIM instructor Michelle Grant and member of the Hamilton Area Rural Australians for Refugees (HARAR), Richard Murphy.


In a 2018-19 report published by Life Saving Victoria, 18% of drowning deaths were of people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Victoria.


Every Victorian child needs to learn how to swim and water safety skills, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at VICSWIM.


Despite living in different sides of Victoria, Richard Murphy, a member of the Hamilton Area Rural Australians for Refugees (HARAR), and Deirdre Atkins from Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group (MVSRG), held concerns about the children in families who had recently moved to their areas, and their ability to swim.


For reasons of culture and opportunity, many of these children had never learnt to swim; some had never been in water deeper than their knees. “If I did nothing to help make this happen, and one of them did drown; well it would be partly my fault wouldn’t it?’, says Richard. The realisation of what could have been a fatal outcome is what pushed Richard and Deirdre into advocating for an affordable swimming program in their local areas.


After talking with the parents, Richard and Deirdre started raising money in their communities and began looking for affordable swimming lessons that the children could be part of.


The low cost, high quality swimming programs available through VICSWIM were exactly what they needed. The lessons enabled an awareness of water safety, survival skills and teaching children how to swim. And, it is not just about water safety.


When Richard asked, six-year-old Joyeuse from the Burundi (Africa) community, if she would like to swim, she responded, “I just want to be like everyone else, and everyone else can swim”. To avoid embarrassment, some of the children were avoiding swimming activities at school, going as far as pretending to be sick so they could stay home.


“We need to do this for the kids to belong, it’s the Australian way of life” Penny Vine, from the MVSRG. The VICSWIM program responded by establishing two of its 180 locations across Victoria, in Hamilton and Albury.


For many new Australians, learning about water safety, survival skills and teaching the children how to swim involves a cultural shift in normalising this new activity. Deirdre, Richard and Penny are excited to introduce the children to the VICSWIM program, and the children are just as excited to learn this basic Australian way of life, that most Victorians take for granted.


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