‘Educating children’ the goal as Sri Lankan lifesavers receive Australian tuition – By Luke Waters (SBS News)

‘Educating children’ the goal as Sri Lankan lifesavers receive Australian tuition – By Luke Waters (SBS News)

Source: SBS News


Thirteen female lifesavers and emerging leaders from Sri Lanka are visiting Victoria to take part in a cross-cultural program aimed at developing the country’s water safety message. 

They took to the breakers at Fairhaven on Victoria’s surf coast, along with instructors from Life Saving Victoria.

Senuri Heshara, 22, said despite finding the open-water rescue sessions challenging, the young women pushed boundaries with the support and encouragement of their instructors.

“We were scared actually to get into this waters at the beginning but these trainers talked us they calmed us down they told us be confident,” she told SBS News.

“(They said) ‘You can do this, you know you are great swimmers,’ so every second we know they are helping us.” 

The seven-year collaboration between Life Saving Victoria and Sri Lanka was forged to address the country’s significant drowning rate.

Sri Lanka Life Saving President Asanka Nanayakkara said developing class-based and practical water skills in the emerging leaders was seen as an important step.

“We requested them to come and upskill us,” he said.

“We need skills – skills like books and training and advanced training regarding the lifesaving.” 

Ms Heshara said the problem lied in a culture of fear.

She said many Sri Lankan parents discouraged their children from swimming, and now there’s a push to have lessons made compulsory for all school-aged children.

“Parents (are) not exposed to that stuff, so they’re a bit scared to send their children. We want to develop their swimming skills at least, and learn how to rescue themselves if they get in trouble. We want to make little children educated.”

Veteran journalist Namini Wijedasa is traveling with the young women to help spread the water safety message.

She said her role was to explore how to grow awareness around the emerging but still little-known organisation in their homeland.

“It’s really important because I’ve been a journalist in Sri Lanka for over two decades, but I didn’t know that there was a lifesaving movement in Sri Lanka,” she said.

“So this is an eye-opener for me as well (to see) the kind of work they do. Apparently they even work in flood situations which I hadn’t known.”

Adding to the multicultural flavour of the program was former Bahraini Olympic swimmer Sameera Al bitar.

She is involved in the Bahraini delegation which has engaged Life Saving Victoria to help develop the nation’s inaugural water safety strategy.

Ms Al bitar conceded her nation was starting from scratch, but said they were determined to improve water safety in the country. 

“I think that we have a lot of work to do, but I think that we can improve very quickly,” she said.

“So over the past year, since we started working we have seen a huge improvement and hopefully in the next few months we will be implementing the swimming pool guidelines.” 

Ms Heshara said she would take her Australian experience and attempt to “save lives” in her homeland.   

“I am going to go back to Sri Lanka and educate my community help others,” she said.

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