Thanks to funding from the Northern Rivers Community Foundation (NRCF), St Vincent de Paul Society in Lismore through the North Coast Settlement Service (NCSS) has been able to conduct ongoing Kick Start swimming programs for former refugees.
Leandro Mendes, the senior support worker for St Vincent’s Outreach service, believes that this is a unique program and that swimming comes with many benefits.
‘It is important in this day and age for people to keep fit,’ says Leandro. ‘It is a huge issue for people in a refugee community because eventually people don’t move as much or exercise.
‘If you look at the pyramid of need, it falls right at the bottom because they have so many other things before fitness or movement.’
Leandro acknowledges that the social element is also important, especially when refugee children are learning to swim. ‘It’s an important time and moment for kids to engage with their parents.
‘It’s a connection that happens that is amazing to watch,’ says Leandro of parents of children who have learnt to swim going on to have the confidence to get in the pool with their kids.
But there are also the social impacts of former refugees being visible and integrated into their new communities.
‘For adults it’s a social change and it is positive for the mainstream to see people they might not normally see in a swimming pool. It’s amazing the comments we get, like “they look so happy’’.’
As a senior support worker who works with migrants and former refugees, Leandro says, ‘I try to expose and connect people to what we in the mainstream take for granted. To see the sheer happiness when people duck their head under the water for the first time is such a joy.
‘The pool is a public place that they wouldn’t access, so swimming lessons are part of breaking those barriers. You don’t just see a Sudanese crossing the road – they are in the gym or in the pool, or going to Trinity to pick up their daughter.
‘That’s when you start to see people as humans and see people with the same issues and needs we all have. Participating in Australian society doesn’t just happen in employment or education; it happens in the pool.’
Run by the swimming instructors at the Lismore pool, the Kick Start program ‘gives people the tools to enjoy the lifestyle that they want to have,’ says Leandro. ‘If you live near the ocean or want to have a barbecue near the lake, then you have to be able to swim.’
Leandro acknowledges the support of the NRCF with this very important program.
‘We wouldn’t have been able to run the program without the NRCF – we are very thankful to them and for the support.’
The next program starts in October and runs through summer. For enquiries contact Leandro at Vinnies Lismore on 0435 659 829.