2015 saw the first of our volunteering camps in India. Swimmers and coaches from Western Melbourne Propulsion travelled to New Delhi and Jaipoor, India, for our inaugural international training and community volunteering camp. Our swimmers have been able to assist some of the world's most needy children, volunteering at a children's home in India.
Swimmers spent their two weeks training with local swim clubs at some amazing locations including the American Embassy School and the 2010 Commonwealth games pool. The primary focus of the camp was so that our swimmers could spend a week volunteering at a local NGO, Tara Children's Home, helping disadvantaged children. Tara is split into four locations/groups: Tots (children aged 2-8), Boys (8-18), Girls (8-18) and Big Birds (18+). Tara offers a permanent home, food, parenting, education and, most importantly, safety to children who have fallen victim to tragic circumstances of abuse or neglect within their own homes and families. It has been deemed unsafe for these children to continue living with their own families, so Tara takes responsibility for their upbringing.
During the stay, Western Melbourne Propulsion spends time playing and running activities with the kids, helping them with their studies and taking them to a local pool for swimming lessons. After spending a week at Tara, our swimmers felt the trip had been a life changing experience. It gave them a real sense of how privileged we are and shows how much we often take for granted.
In 2017 Western Melbourne Propulsion sent a larger team to continue working with and developing the relationship with Tara Homes, and included fundraising activities to provide training equipment and other swimming essentials to the children.
Western Melbourne Propulsion aims to provide this opportunity to our swimmers every 2-3 years as they become more senior. We believe the cultural experience, together with the ability to do some good, provides our young people with unique opportunities and insights into what swimming can do.
It has been a pleasure helping the Tara community grow.
The Broadmeadows Club Night is held every sixth week of term. The program is a chance for the up and coming learn-to-swim members from the Hume City Council and surrounding areas to experience the training environment of a high performance program. The role of the club nights is give participants an introduction to competitive swimming and an idea about the pathway to joining Western Melbourne Propulsion.
The majority of participants stem with migrant families with little understanding of the transition between learn-to-swim and competitive swimming. The program focuses on race skills, including starts and turns, along with the team component in relay races.
The session enhances the participant’s stroke technique and encourages the participants to build their swimming knowledge when they return to their normal classes. Many squad swimmers at the Broadmeadows squads sessions began with the club nights before moving across with WMP when assessed as competent. This program is provided at no cost, to encourage young swimmers from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic situations to be able to participate in the sport of swimming.
Ella Keogh, a previous WMP national swimmer and president of the club, first witnessed the challenges faced by members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities who want to learn to swim, when she was teaching a class at the Club's Melbourne University facilities. One of the participants wore a hajib and clothing in the water because she was at a public pool and the water-logged, heavy material made the lessons difficult for her.
It led Ella to investigate how she could create an environment that would be appropriate for female members of CALD communities and make them feel at ease.
She approached neighbourhood learning centre Farnham Street, which works closely with refugee communities, and found that there was a need for this. Many pools provided times when women could use the pools in privacy, but these were often late at night, which made it difficult for those with children, and, particularly concerning for Ella, these were rarely when swim teachers were available.
“There was the opportunity to go to the pool in an environment that was culturally appropriate but just not the opportunity to actually learn how to swim,” she said.
Her response was to find a way to do both, and , working with Seb and the WMP team, she developed a learn-to-swim program for women that was held at times during the day at WMP that encouraged participation among Melbourne’s CALD communities.
The classes, which have been running during summer for the past three years, proved popular and quickly grew from a handful to a dozen women from countries such as Somalia, Vietnam, China and Lebanon. The goal of the program was to provide a safe space for the women so they felt comfortable to fully participate and reach a level where they could save themselves if they got into trouble.
Why was this important? A Royal Life Saving Australia Report provides the sobering answer. It found that 762 people, who were born overseas, drowned in Australia between 2005 and 2015. This made up 27 percent of total drownings and included recent arrivals, long-term residents, international students, those on work trips and tourists.
Surf Life Saving Victoria’s most-recent annual Drowning Report also states that 14 of the 40 people who died in the state’s waterways during the 2017-2018 year were from CALD communities, up from a 10-year average of eight deaths per year.
The circumstances in which immigrants to Australia previously lived may have given them little access to pools or waterways, let alone exposure to water-safety messages or learn-to-swim programs. Some have arrived from war-torn regions or land-locked countries where the ability to swim is simply not a priority and certainly not the rite of passage that it is regarded as in Australia.
“Then once you’re here there’s not an opportunity,” Ella said. “If you need to be in a hijab and fully clothed that’s going to be pretty hard.”
Ella said the WMP teachers had also learnt a great deal from the program, including, in hindsight, realising they had not fully appreciated the depth of fear that many participants felt about being in the water.
It was the main reason why Linda Guerra Clemente could not swim despite having some lessons when she lived in Portugal.
“My fear is that somehow I won’t be able to swim and I will drown, so if I swim in a pool where I can stand up (then) I can swim. If I move further out and I get tired or can’t swim I think I will drown,” Linda said.
“It takes time for people to lose fear and gain confidence. The more I practise the more confident I will be.”
Linda did not rush back to the pool when she arrived in Australia, waiting a couple of years before she joined the Farnham Street program at WMP's Essendon pool and, while she was still working to improve her swimming, she would not have reached the current level without it.
“I’m very grateful to the program because they gave me an opportunity I probably wouldn’t have had because of a lack of initiative in some respects,” she said.
“Compared to where I was at the beginning to what I am now, I am much better.”
Our Club is very proud of this initiative, and we continue to seek ways to support local communities.