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Campaign to help all children learn to swim kicks off following deadly year of drownings

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SwimSafer Week is starting with a bid to get more children into swiming lessons. File image.

A new campaign to get more children learning how to swim is asking richer families to help pay for those who can’t afford lessons.

Off the back of the deadliest year in a decade for drownings, SwimSafer Week starts with a bid to get more children into swiming lessons.

Danni Turner has worked at Auckland swim school SwimStation for 15 years, and said the cost of lessons – which can be hundreds of dollars a year for just one child – was the biggest hurdle.

“I remember one family, their daughter was 7, and they said ‘oh well she’s had a couple of years now so we’ll put her swimming lessons on hold so we can start her younger brother’,” Turner said.

“But she 7-year-old couldn’t yet swim what I would call safe and strong.”

SwimStation was one of dozens of swim schools offering a “pay it forward” option for their programme, which has been launched by Water Safety NZ and Swim Coaches and Teachers New Zealand.

Families who can afford it can help cover the cost for those who find the lessons too expensive.

Turner said people also needed to be encouraged to ask for help.

“I think people think there’s always someone more deserving … so we don’t advocate for ourselves and our children as much as we could, or should.”

Swimming lessons were part of the primary school curriculum, but Turner said they only gave children the bare minimum and parents should not assume their kids have all the skills they need.

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) Chief Executive Officer Daniel Gerrard.

Water Safety chief executive Daniel Gerrard.
Photo: Supplied/Water Safety New Zealand

Water Safety chief executive Daniel Gerrard said the ‘Swim it Forward’ campaign was hoping to bridge a gap with people donating the average cost of one lesson, which was about $20.

Gerrard said a similar campaign was “hugely successful” in Australia.

Parents and adults were also encouraged to get themselves into lessons – because 95 per cent of those who drown are adults.

Men, and specifically Pasifika and Māori, made up the majority of those deaths.

Rob Hewitt

Ex-navy diver Rob Hewitt survived for four days after being swept out to sea.
Photo: Fairfax Media NZ / Dominion Post

Rob Hewitt, an ex-navy diver who survived four days and three nights off the Kapiti Coast in 2006 after being swept out to sea, said men need to lead by example.

“What do you want to pass on to your kids? I’ve been out on boats and I see the kid’s wearing a life jacket, mum’s wearing a life jacket but dad’s not wearing a life jacket,” Hewitt said.

“The kid’s looking up at his dad and, hey, the dad’s the hero in this space, so the kid’s thinking ‘when I get to that age I don’t have to wear this life jacket’.”

The Swim It Forward campaign kicks off today.

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