New initiative to promote water safety following recent drownings

A $100,000 NSW initiative aims to provide swimming lessons to 1,000 children living in communities with the highest drowning risk.

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In a devastating series of events, the Indian community has been rocked by yet another heartbreaking drowning incident. Melbourne’s Sunny Randhawa, 38, had embarked on a family trip with his wife, young children, and parents to Queensland during the Easter break. However, their holiday took a tragic turn when Sunny’s toddler daughter slipped into their hotel pool on Sunday night. Despite frantic efforts from Randhawa and his father Gurjinder Singh, 65, both men tragically lost their lives in an attempt to save her. This incident marks the third Indian family in Victoria to succumb to drowning in recent times, highlighting a pressing issue within the community.

Sunny Randhawa’s death in the Gold Coast is not an isolated incident. In January, four members of the same family drowned near Philip Island, and just last month, student Jil Khokhara, 26, lost his life in a similar incident near Apollo Bay. Authorities have pointed out that many of these incidents occur due to a lack of swimming skills among individuals involved.

In response to the alarming rise in drowning incidents, Royal Life Saving NSW and the NSW Government have launched a new initiative, Project Harmony, announced today. This $100,000 joint initiative aims to provide swimming lessons to 1,000 children living in communities with the highest drowning risk in the state, particularly those facing barriers to accessing swimming lessons.

Project Harmony targets children aged three to six years who have not enrolled in school, offering them the opportunity to learn vital swimming and water safety skills. The program, launched at the Whitlam Leisure Centre in Liverpool, is a collaborative effort between local governments in Western Sydney, community leaders, and various stakeholders.

Michael Ilinsky, CEO of Royal Life Saving NSW, emphasised the importance of addressing the disparity in swimming and water safety skills uptake, particularly in areas with above-average drowning rates. He highlighted that recent data indicates a decline in swimming lesson registrations, especially in areas where drowning incidents have spiked.

Minister for Sport Steve Kamper stressed the necessity of equipping children with essential water safety skills to reduce the risk of drowning.

Mr Kamper said, “Swimming at your local pool or the beach is a key part of the Australian lifestyle. But to reduce the risk of drowning, children must learn basic swimming and water safety skills. Project Harmony will provide children from CALD communities in wester Sydney with essential water safety skills.”

Charishma Kaliyanda, Member for Liverpool, acknowledged the challenges faced by families in her constituency and expressed hope that Project Harmony would provide peace of mind to parents regarding their children’s safety in and around water.

“Cost of living pressures have created challenges for many families in Liverpool,” said Ms Kaliyanda. “But we all want every parent to have peace of mind that their child is safe in and around the water. Project Harmony will ensure more Liverpool children can enjoy a swim at the pool or beach next summer, and our community has that peace of mind,” said Ms Kaliyanda.

“Multicultural communities are particularly vulnerable, with 35 per cent of people born overseas identifying as poor or non-swimmers,” Multicultural NSW CEO Joseph La Posta said.

“The collaboration between Royal Life Saving NSW, community organisations and the 10 local government facilities is a great example of the community and government-wide approach required for drowning prevention.”

La Posta underscored the vulnerability of multicultural communities, with a significant portion identifying as poor or non-swimmers. He commended the collaborative effort between Royal Life Saving NSW, community organisations, and local governments in tackling drowning prevention.

A 2022 study by UNSW had found that migrants from South Asia, particularly India, made up the largest number of drowning deaths among migrants at Australian beaches.

Families and community organisations interested in participating in Project Harmony can find more information on the program’s website. With Liverpool being one of the 14 partner pools in seven local government areas delivering the initiative, there is optimism for broader community engagement and increased water safety awareness.

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