Organizations calling for targeted swimming programs after death of young immigrant

As the Manitoba Nigerian community is mourning the loss of a young boy who died in a drowning accident, support agencies say there need to be more specialized programs to help newcomers learn important life-saving skills.

The young boy was taken off life-support after doctors tried to save his life after the July 21 incident in Valley Gardens.

On July 21, emergency crews were called to the townhouse complex after the drowning incident but the child didn’t make it.

Read more: Child in critical condition after ’emergency’ at apartment complex pool in Winnipeg

“I really wanted to express our sincere condolences to the family. It’s a real tragedy,” executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) Shereen Denetto told Global News.

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While it’s unclear what the child’s swimming skill level was, Denetto said it’s not uncommon for newcomers and immigrants to be unable to swim.

She said many who come to Canada are fleeing war, may not have been able to afford swimming lessons, or didn’t live near bodies of water.

“It’s just not ingrained in the prior lives of newcomers before they come to Canada,” Denetto said. “It’s easy to underestimate the dangers of water.”

Christopher Love, the Water Smart and safety management co-ordinator for the Lifesaving Society of Manitoba, said there have been eight fatal drownings in Manitoba since January and the province sees 22 per year on average.

“We tend to see about 70 per cent of those fatalities occur in the traditional summer months between May and September,” Love said.

READ MORE: Experts urge Manitobans to be safe when swimming following 3 separate drownings

He also noted a that 2016 report found that new Canadians age 11 to 14 are five times more likely to not know how to swim compared with their Canadian-born counterparts.

“Families coming to Canada, often have different knowledge or experiences around issues of water safety and the importance of learning to swim,” public education director for the Lifesaving Society Barbara Byers said at the time.

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In 2016, a 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, both from the Philippines, drowned near the popular boardwalk area at Grand Beach.

Two years later two Somalian immigrants drowned in Kenora, Ont.

IRCOM said it highlights the dire need for more targeted swimming programs. Organizations could offer interpretation, lessons in other languages and ones specifically for women.

“In the past and over the years, some groups and organizations have offered swimming lessons for women because the comfort is not there,” Denetto said. “Having special services for women is a really wonderful thing because they’re the ones spending a lot of time with small children.”

The Aquatics Centre in Winkler said it was able to start a similar program this year through the Manitoba Coalition for Safer Waters, Community Water Safety grant.

“We have seen this need in our community as we have so many newcomers, and this is a way to make connection within our community as well,” said Lani Ens, Winkler Aquatic Centre programmer. “This program allowed 50 participants, adults and children to get free swimming lessons.”

Ens said drowning prevention is the root of everything the group does at its facility.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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