It takes a community to teach, reach and rescue
  • Tuesday 18 May 2021

Image: Thi Bich Hop Nguyen and her daughter Sophie Pham participate in the Migrant Learn to Swim and Beach Safe program at the Goodlife Community Centre in Buderim.

When Thi Bich Hop Nguyen (aka Hop) arrived for her beach safety lesson at Bulcock Beach, she didn’t think her 10-year-old daughter, Sophie Pham would listen in, pick up the learnings and skills, and then proceed to complete an actual beach rescue with her paddleboard… on the same day.

But Sophie did.

This story is exactly why Sunshine Coast Council and the Royal Surf Life Saving Society Queensland created the Migrant Learn to Swim and Beach Safe program in March 2018.

Council has run the program twice-a-year for three years, only missing a round during the COVID-19 lockdown. The most recent round finished up on 15 May with 45 participants signing up.

Three years and a total of 270 participants later, this latest round of migrants have gained the skills, knowledge and confidence to navigate the waters of the Sunshine Coast.

Sunshine Coast Council Community Portfolio Councillor David Law said spending time at the beach and taking part in water-based activities was such a quintessential part of living on the Sunshine Coast.

“Everyone should have the chance to enjoy the water here on the Coast, whether they’ve always lived nearby or if being near pools or beaches is a new experience,” Cr Law said.

“For those who have migrated to the Sunshine Coast, we believed it is important to offer free learn-to-swim and beach safety awareness sessions, and we’re grateful to be able to do this in partnership with Royal Life Saving Society Queensland.”

Paul Barry, Executive Director of Royal Life Saving Society Queensland, said he was pleased to see this program continue to have great success.

“Australian residents who are born overseas have a higher risk of drowning than the general population, so a program aimed at these groups not only assists people to better enjoy our great Australian lifestyle, but assists them to do so in a safe manner,” Mr Barry said.

Hop Nguyen and her family moved from Vietnam to the Sunshine Coast in February 2020 and instantly fell in love with the beachside lifestyle.

“We always go to Point Cartwright together as a family, and we love spending time at Mooloolaba Beach as well,” Ms Nguyen said.

“When we moved to the Sunny Coast, I became involved with council’s Multicultural Advisory Group where I first heard about the Migrant Learn to Swim and Beach Safe program.

“I immediately registered and then shared the information with my Vietnamese friends and other migrant neighbours and told them to come along with me.

“I did take a swimming lesson in Vietnam, so I can swim, but I’ve never felt confident in the water… I never felt safe.

“But now, because of this program, I feel grateful because I’ve learned so many methods and tips to feel safe and relaxed in the water.

“This program is very helpful, and I think our household and other migrant friends have found it to be a great support.”

Bli Bli resident Emily White decided she wanted to volunteer for the Migrant Learn to Swim and Beach Safe program after seeing a poster at the Nambour Aquatic Centre.

“Before COVID, I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, but with fewer international people coming in, my teaching role finished up at the end of last year,” Ms White said.

“I find that people who move to Australia make a huge effort to learn our culture and fit into society, and their positivity is just lovely.

“So because I also love swimming, I asked if I could volunteer with the program and help connect with migrants again.

“It’s been fascinating to see the mixture of migrants’ reactions in the water. Some are tentative and don’t like putting their head under water. Most are fearful of the deep water and feel a lack of confidence.

“Given the climate we live in, both the pool and the beach are an intrinsic part of life on the Sunshine Coast, so I believe it’s important for anyone living here to feel safe around water.

“This program plays an important role in helping people integrate to life here.

“If you teach one member of a family how to swim and be safe on the beach, then those learnings can be passed along to other members of the family and future generations.”

This is exactly what happened for the Nguyen family, and when young Sophie called out “I’m coming to help you! Here, hold onto this!” at the beach during the safety lesson, she towed her “patient” back to the beach and to everyone’s applause.

For more information about the Migrant Learn to Swim and Beach Safe program and other programs and resources for migrants, please visit council’s Multicultural Welcome Hub,