Drowning deaths of Winnipeg men renews calls for newcomer swim classes

Drowning deaths of Winnipeg men renews calls for newcomer swim classes

The drowning deaths of two newcomers to Canada in Kenora last week has Winnipegger Abdulahi Elmi worried about his own family’s safety around the water.

Elmi, who is originally from Somalia and came to Canada with his wife and two children two years ago, says no one in his family knows how to swim.

“We have to be vigilant we have to be far away from the swimming places because we don’t have that skill,” he told CBC News Sunday, adding he would jump at the chance to go to swim classes for newcomers.

Abdulahi Elmi, who is originally from Somalia and came to Canada with his wife and two children two years ago, worries about his own family’s safety around water. (CBC)

“They need programs to learn how to swim and how to protect their kids from swimming pools or from the lakes and rivers.”

Pawan Preet Brar, 20, and 19-year-old Arwinder Brar, both from Winnipeg, died after an apparent fall into Lake of the Woods at Kenora, Ont., on Thursday.

Ontario Provincial Police initially responded to a call about swimmers in distress. OPP divers recovered the bodies of both men Friday.

Little experience with lakes

Both men immigrated to Canada within the past six years and had little experience with lakes, said Pawan Preet Brar’s uncle, Darshan Kaila, who owns the Hilton Garden Inn where both men worked.

Kaila is urging newcomers to Canada to take extra precautions around bodies of water.

“My advice is, please, all the newcomers, I know there is Google and you can look for everything, you guys are smart and well-educated, but still you need someone’s advice or somebody with you guys when you are near a lake or camping,” he said over the weekend.

Pawan Preet Brar, left, and Arwinder Brar drowned in Kenora, Ont., on Thursday. (Left: Prestige Portraits/Submitted by Darshan Kaila. Right: GoFundMe)

A 2016 report by the Lifesaving Society of Canada showed new Canadians age 11 to 14 are five times more likely to not know how to swim compared to their Canadian-born counterparts.

In August of that year 12-year-old David Medina and 11-year-old Jhonalyn Javier drowned near Grand Beach’s popular boardwalk area along Lake Winnipeg.

The families of both children were recent immigrants from the Philippines.

Later that same month 22-year-old Jean-Baptiste Ajua drowned at Birds Hill Beach. He had immigrated to Canada from Rwanda in 2009 and had become a Canadian citizen earlier in the year.

The deaths led Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services (NEEDS) to start a 10-week course to help newcomers learn how to swim, which launched in January 2017.

After three new Canadian youths drown last summer, a Winnipeg based non-profit organization is helping newcomers learn to swim. 2:32

At the time Sara Warkentin from NEEDS told CBC News it’s not as easy as just signing up for swimming lessons for many immigrants.

Many of the families are just getting settled, learning to speak a new language, catching up on lost school time and figuring out how systems work in Canada, she said.

The program’s goal, she said, is “eliminating a lot of those barriers so it doesn’t have to seem like one more thing they have to deal with.”

‘It’s so heartbreaking’

In Portage la Prairie, the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre has been running newcomer swimming lessons for the last two years.

Miriam Turyamwijuka, the organization’s settlement coordinator, says she feels personally impacted when she learns of these tragedies because she meets many newcomers striving for a better life.

“When I hear about these things happening, it’s so heartbreaking,” she said.

“I know how much has gone into their coming to Canada, and they came thinking they would have a better life and then this happens.”

Portage is welcoming many immigrants, mainly from India and the Philippines, explained Turyamwijuka, and she finds those who grew up in urban centres were never afforded the opportunity to swim.

OPP in Kenora investigating possible drowning 0:28

“In some cultures, [women] can’t swim around men, so that influences that as well, especially in the more Muslim cultures.”

Turyamwijuka says dozens of children and nearly 10 women have enrolled in the swimming program. Many newcomers in Portage and throughout the province don’t know that swimming programs are available to them.

Elmi says having the chance to take part in lessons — especially ones designed for newcomers — would be a good opportunity for him and his family.

For him, part of becoming a Canadian includes being able to enjoy our lakes and rivers.

‘We are living in Canada and in Canada there’s a lot of lakes,” he said. “It’s a skill we need.”

Published at Mon, 09 Jul 2018 07:07:50 -0400