Taking refuge in the surf

LAST week, Burmese refugee Monica Omtha couldn’t even swim, let alone surf – not that you would know it.

Yesterday, Monica, pictured, was catching waves like a pro alongside 19 other refugees who have learned invaluable water skills thanks to the charity of Anglicare North Coast, East Coast Surf School, St John’s Church and Coffs Swim Pool.

The week-long workshop gave 20 refugees who now call Coffs Harbour home an opportunity to learn basic skills most of us take for granted, from swimming the length of a pool to beach safety and rescue.

For 14-year-old Monica, who came to Coffs Harbour just over 18 months ago, the week has ignited a passion she never knew she had.

“I have learnt so many new things,” she said.

“Before this week, I couldn’t even swim – I couldn’t do anything in the water. Now, I’m very clever!

“I love surfing 100 per cent, I love it here.”

East Coast Surf School owner Helene Enevoldson said she couldn’t believe the progress during the week. From kayaking to snorkling, surfing and body boarding, all 20 particpants are now confident and able in the water.

“We have seen absolutely incredible improvements during the week,” Ms Enevoldson said.

“Some of the people couldn’t even pt their face under the water at the beginningof the week, now every single one of them are swimming a lap of the pool in freestyle and jetty jumping – it’s amazing. Coffs Harbour is their home now and this program was about giving them the confidence to enjoy the coast safely.”

She said the demand of the program was huge, with people interested from Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Woolgoolga.

“We’d love to run it again, we just have to look at securing more funding,” she said.

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