When the members of Australia’s first all-Afghan-born Surf Life Saving team arrived in their new country a few years ago, none of them could swim.
Now they have won a silver medal in their state Surf Life Saving championships.
“I couldn’t swim,” 19-year-old Sana Mosawi said, recalling her first experience with the water.
“I still remember the first time. I couldn’t walk in the water. It was that challenging for me.”
Sahar Ehsani, 17, was the much the same.
“It was really hard because I had never been in water before,” she said.
“I got nervous and then I couldn’t breathe, but when I learnt the basic skills it got easier.”
In their landlocked homeland, the five young women in the team had no opportunity to swim at the beach.
There were also cultural issues around not being fully clothed.
Those issues were solved by Life Saving Victoria’s multicultural program, run by Bonbeach Surf Life Saving Club in Melbourne’s south-east.
“I still feel kind of anxious in the water, but I’m sure I won’t drown,” Ms Ehsani said.
After learning to swim, the five young women decided to take the next step and learn life-saving skills.
They put those skills to the test at the state championships in Lorne on Sunday.
There were no jet skis or rescue boats allowed, only a rope and reel, with the rescuer having to swim through the surf with a heavy line attached to reach their target.
Efforts helping to turn around devastating statistic
The competition was held against the backdrop of a terrible few months for drownings in Victoria, with 47 people dead since July 2020, up 15 on the 10-year average.
Life Saving Victoria’s statistics show people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are 1.86 times more likely to drown than people born in Australia.
“They struggle to understand the conditions, the water conditions, the weather conditions, and they overestimate their skills,” Life Saving Victoria multicultural project officer Ramzi Hussaini said.
Ms Ehsani said becoming a life saver had also helped her develop a sense of belonging in her adopted country.
“I wanted to give back to Australia and Life Saving Victoria, and now I feel like I’m contributing to the growth of my community,” she said.