Myanmar Refugee Gets Taste Of Nipper Life

For hundreds of excited youngsters Sunday marked a first enthusiastic foray into the world of lifesaving. Amid the splashes, cheers, and races on Bellambi Beach was one child who has followed a very different path to become a 2015 Nipper.

Five-year-old Davis and his family are refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and this water-loving youngster who was only recently introduced to beach awareness through the successful 291 Project, loved his first taste of Nippers.

Speaking through an interpreter, Davis’s father said his energetic son loves the water and that the club made the family feel extremely welcomed. He hopes that Davis can continue to enjoy himself each Sunday throughout the season.

Bellambi’s 291 Project started because there was genuine concern in the community that school-aged youngsters (primarily those between 5-18) lacked experience in the surf and weren’t equipped to handle themselves if they got into difficulty in the water. Davis loved the program so much that he accepted an offer to join the club’s general Nippers program.

The program has attracted significant community support and takes place several times each year. Course participants get to spend time in the local pool to be introduced to basic swimming techniques, while also spending five days at the beach during the school holidays where they are introduced to the dangers of the surf such as rips and other hazards.

The project recently achieved state recognition after being named Surf Life Saving NSW Community Education Program of the Year at a ceremony in Sydney in late August.

Bellambi President Craig Kershaw said he was delighted that Davis has committed to Nippers and that giving back to the community especially in terms of promoting a culture around beach safety is an important aspect of the club’s vision.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we are such an inclusive club and we actively encourage anyone who wants to learn about the beach and ocean to come down and have a go,” Mr Kershaw said.

“A few of our members have volunteered to help Davis’s father learn English and it was such a pleasure to see Davis really enjoying himself and participating in all the activities.”

The family previously lived in a refugee camp in Thailand where Davis was born after fleeing their native Myanmar before eventually settling in Australia in 2011.

Diana Proksch, a worker with Brighter Futures, which is part of CareSouth plays a vital role in assisting and caring for people doing it tough in the Illawarra and who works closely with the family says joining a surf life saving club is a wonderful opportunity.

“It is great for Davis and his family to become involved in the local community in an organisation that is regarded as a key part of the Australian summer lifestyle,” Ms Proksch said. “It’s so important to help them feel comfortable and to socialise with people outside their immediate family and it will provide benefits both to the family and to the community.”

Ms Proksch feels that the message of water safety and beach awareness is vital for refugee families to help keep them safe on Australian beaches.

“I think sometimes we do forget that many refugees are simply not used to a coastal environment. It’s incredibly foreign to them and when you add in the difficulties of a language barrier, it is easy to see how problems can quickly develop.

“Personal safety is such an important message to learn, and now Davis has the chance to learn from his peers while his family too will also be in a position to improve their knowledge.”

Photograph - Davis, his father, and club president Craig Kershaw are all smiles on the opening day of Nippers 2015. Courtesy of Bellambi SLSC

Tue 13 Oct 2015