Two rescues performed by off-duty surf lifesavers, which saved the lives of eight men from Western Sydney, were the inspiration for a new learn to swim program that was officially launched on the Australia Day long weekend in Cronulla.
It was the October long weekend, 2019 and a group of men from a Western Sydney Mosque were on a father-son camping weekend at Seven Mile Beach near Forster on the NSW Lower North Coast. Several men and their sons ventured into the water for a swim not realising they were heading straight into a rip. The group quickly got swept out by the strong current and began struggling to stay above water.
Hearing cries for help, a group of off-duty surf lifesavers from Sydney, who were camping at the same campground as the men, raced down to the beach to rescue them. Two of the men, who almost drowned, were treated by paramedics and required hospitalisation.
It was this lifesaving rescue, and a similar one the following day involving the same group of men, that inspired Omar Mahmoud and Feroz Sattar to form Swim Brothers, an innovative new learn to swim program that is providing men from diverse communities with culturally-appropriate learn to swim training – both in the pool and in the surf.
Omar and Feroz realised that many people in their community have limited swimming ability in the pool and the surf and decided to do something about it. The Swim Brothers program was the result and it was officially launched at North Cronulla Beach in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire on Sunday 24 January.
“There are challenges with men from our communities being able to access surf and beach safety programs in a culturally sensitive format. Swim Brothers specifically tailors all aspects to address this and make this important skill accessible to all,” Feroz Sattar said.
“It’s interesting because we developed this program – but we are also the target market for it as well. I had started this program with Feroz and immediately learned that I was not as good a swimmer as I thought. And the importance of beach and surf safety was further reinforced,” Omar Mahmoud said.
Omar and Feroz were also inspired to form Swim Brothers after seeing the success of the similar Swim Sisters program which partnered with the Garie Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney to assist women to achieve their Bronze Medallions and become surf lifesavers.
Swim Brothers program participant Abdullah Syed said that being from an Islamic cultural background, he recognises that there are barriers to learning beach and water safety.
“One of the barriers involves the separation of men and women when their being together is not required in a professional or emergency capacity. This has been the case in Islamic tradition as a way to preserve the modesty of the two sexes,” Abdullah Syed said.
“In turn, this has meant that swim and beach activities, which generally involve the socialising of women and men, have been largely avoided by people of the Islamic faith. This has meant poor swim skills and techniques as well as inadequate knowledge of beach and surf safety.
“Swim Brothers has recognised the cultural sensitivities of people from immigrant and Islamic cultural backgrounds and has facilitated for these communities through their swim programs specifically for men and for women,” he said.
Another Swim Brothers participant, Nasmin Taybah, said that after some challenging experiences in the water, he decided he needed to learn to swim properly.
“Once I was at the beach and I went into the water not realising how strong the waves were. It wasn’t very deep but I had to use all my powers to reach the shore. I almost did not make it,” Nasmin Taybah said.
“I also had a cousin who drowned at the beach. This event left a scar on me ever since,” he said.
According to the NSW 2020 Coastal Safety Report, men are over-represented in coastal drowning deaths, making up 88 percent of people who drowned during the 2019/20 season.
Steven Pearce, CEO of Surf Life Saving NSW, said that Surf Life Saving NSW was fully supporting the Swim Brothers program, to help reduce the number of drowning incidents involving people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
“What Feroz and Omar have done in establishing the Swim Brothers program is to be commended. When it comes to coastal drownings, people from Western Sydney, particularly people from diverse communities, are identified as an at risk group,” Steven Pearce said.
“The Swim Brothers collaboration gives us a fantastic opportunity to use our expertise to deliver vital beach and surf safety messages alongside the all-important practical swimming and water confidence skills that Swim Brothers works towards.
“For participants and their families, this program also helps create generational change amongst at risk communities and helps raise awareness of the importance of learning to swim and how to stay safe at the beach.
“There is always the opportunity for participants of the program to work towards becoming volunteer surf lifesavers, helping save lives and giving back to communities through our organisation,” he said.
Having had two weeks’ training at Auburn Pool, Swim Brothers training program participants hit North Cronulla Beach for the first time on the Australia Day long weekend to learn about beach and surf safety.
Sutherland Shire Council Lifeguards and Surf Life Saving NSW trainers led the session and provided water safety during training activities.
Wednesday 27 January 2021