Royal Life Saving Society of Tasmania offers free swimming lessons to teenage refugees

When Mohsen Mohammadi arrived in Australia three years ago he had no idea how to swim.

The 18-year-old refugee from Afghanistan is one of 70 students from other countries taking part in Royal Life Saving’s Swim and Survive program for free over the next two weeks.

“It can save my life, it could save my family’s life somehow,” he said.

“Swimming is fun, it’s summer and it’s a bit hot and it’s enjoyable to go in the Gorge and have fun with your friends.”

Mr Mohammadi said he had been scared to swim, detailing an incident when a friend pushed him in the water two years ago.

“I nearly died, I didn’t know how to swim, but now I can save my life,” he said.

The students participating are from Brooks, Queechy and Kings Meadows high schools and Newstead College.

I nearly died, I didn’t know how to swim, but now I can save my life.

Mohsen Mohammadi

The 10 days of swimming lessons is part of the support given by Mary-Lou Taurian, an advanced skills teacher with the education department’s English as an additional language program.

“We support the students because when they arrive they go into age appropriate classes and, depending on the level of need, we support them to do everything else that their peers are doing,” she said.

“Some of them are really scared to go in the water, especially the girls, it is really difficult for them because they are not used to being part of a swimming program, so with the skills they learn they can be more confident and be part of the school’s swimming program.”

The classes will also help to further integrate the students into Australian society, giving them skills most of their peers take for granted, Ms Taurian said.

Karina Siggins, the project and programs officer at the Royal Life Saving Society of Tasmania, said the students taking part were aged between 13 and 19.

“Last year was our first year that we were involved and it was so successful,” she said.

“In fact, those students that went through last year, their mums are currently doing a program as well which is super exciting and I am hoping it was the excitement of the students that had been portrayed through to the families to get them involved with aquatics in a broad way.

“They don’t have to be fantastic freestylers, they just need to know how to be safe in the water.”

From July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, a staggering 291 people drowned in Australia.

The nation’s inland waterways continue to be the leading location for fatal drowning, accounting for 97 deaths in 2016-17.

“Playing in backyard swimming pools, picnics by the river, and splashing around at the beach are very much a part of everyday life in Australia,” Ms Siggins said.

“It’s vital for children and adults to know how to safely enjoy these area

“Swim and Survive Fund participants are taught a range of skills for different aquatic environments including personal survival skills such as floating and sculling, learning to identify hazards in different environments, and how to avoid these hazards to stay safe.”

The Swim and Survive Fund uses donations from individuals, community organisations, corporate supporters and Royal Life Saving Partner facilities across Australia to increase access to swimming and water safety education for people who are at a greater risk of drowning.