January 26, 2020 05:00:57
Do you remember your first time in the ocean?
For 39-year-old Monika Manot, it was just the other day.
“It’s like I have broken all the barriers,” she said, standing in the waves at Mooloolaba Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
She is flanked by her two sons Aarav, 8, and Anay, 4, who were elated to be joined by their mum.
The Sunshine Coast resident and her husband Vineet immigrated from India and have lived in Australia for more than a decade.
Immigrating itself comes with plenty of challenges and for Monika and her family, leaning to swim was one of them.
A joint initiative between Royal Life Saving Society Queensland, Surf Life Saving Queensland and Sunshine Coast Council is offering free swimming lessons to migrants.
It’s been a game changer for Monika and her young family.
“I think it’s really very important that immigrants be able to enjoy their experience while they’re in Australia,” she said.
“Not all immigrants could be from a country where swimming would be part of their day-to-day life.
“Here, it’s very important to learn to swim because there is water everywhere.”
The costs associated with learning to swim can add up quickly, so Monika took the plunge and enrolled her sons in the classes and herself in a women’s group.
When asked whether her husband was a confident swimmer, Monika laughed: “He can save himself”.
Adults can learn new tricks it’s just trickier
Swimming instructor Michelle Campbell Burns teaches some of the migrant swimming groups, including Monika’s.
She said swimming is a skill that many Australians take for granted, particularly if it’s learnt from a young age.
While she was not scared of being in the water, Monika conceded there were mental barriers she had to overcome while learning to swim as an adult.
“It becomes hard to learn because … we’re so used to being in our comfort zone. Anything that is out of our comfort zone becomes a big challenge,” she said.
Even after the first 10-week course, mastering the breathing technique is still particularly difficult.
According to Good Life Community Centre’s aquatic supervisor Joanna Efendi, who helps run the program, this is the case for many adults entering the water for the first time.
“Older people who don’t grow up around the water, verses younger children that do, they tend to probably have a deeper ingrained fear and it takes a little bit longer to work through those fears,” Ms Efendi said.
For adult students like Monika, even putting their head under the water is a massive feat.
“We had some [students] that came in and they were terrified and couldn’t even put their face in the water,” Ms Campbell Burns said.
“And by the end of the program they were able to kick half the length of the pool, with their face in the water and feet off the ground. They did really well.”
While Monika has been able to do this, she admits she still gets panicked in the water.
For her, it’s as much about staying calm as it is about maintaining the correct breathing and stroke technique.
“We get so used to breathing on the land, it’s so hard to learn when you’re in the water,” she said.
“My oldest son has picked it up already in just like one term of swimming lessons, but I still haven’t got the technique right.”
‘They feel like they belong’
Not only have swimming lessons helped the Manot family learn a lifesaving skill, they have played a huge role in instilling a sense of belonging within their community.
“My older son is always asking ‘Mama can I do jet-skiing one day? Can I do kayaking one day? Can I go boating one day?’,” she said.
“Whenever we go anywhere, we see people doing water activities and we felt kind of left out.”
On top of that, there was the stress of having to say no to invitations to children’s birthday parties at the beach or the pool.
She said she could already see how learning to swim had improved her sons’ confidence and how they interact with friends.
“They feel like they belong,” she said.
“That’s one of the reasons we got our children to learn swimming, because you feel a sense of belonging when you’re into what everybody is doing.”
It has also changed how she spends time with them.
“[Until now] I have been only a viewer, an audience of their enjoyment, but now I can be part of their enjoyment,” she said.
“I think I’ll have more memorable moments with my kids now because they love being in the water.”
Not knowing how to swim worryingly common
In the adult swimming lessons, Monika’s peers come from all over the world. There is a woman from New York, one from Ireland and another from Brazil.
As Ms Campbell Burns explains, not knowing how to swim is more common than most people think and it’s not just newcomers to the country.
“Teaching school swimming, you definitely see that there are a lot of school kids who can’t swim on the coast which very surprising and concerning,” Ms Campbell Burns said.
But school programs, as well as council initiatives like the Migrant Learn to Swim and their Beach Safety Program, are helping to improve this.
Sunshine Coast councillor Jenny McKay said the programs give people the confidence to enjoy their area safely.
“Whether you’re a local, a visitor or a newcomer to the coast, you need to understand the oceans and our waterways,” Councillor Mckay said.
“It’s not just oceans, we’ve got a number of different waterways like waterfalls and dams and even swimming pools and knowing how to navigate them is essential to safety.”
Contact Edwina Seselja