After losing their son, these parents are backing a water safety campaign that reaches migrant communities

The parents of South Sudanese teenager Riing Doar say they are actively promoting the water safety message in their community. Source: SBS News

Royal Life Saving NSW has launched a campaign to communicate water safety messages in Arabic, Nepali and Chinese following a spate of drownings this summer.

At 15 years old, Riing Doar was school captain and wanted to one day be a scientist.

But his dreams were cut short earlier this year. 

The teenager was swimming with friends near Georges River Road, south-west of Sydney, in January when he disappeared underwater. 

His body was later recovered near the river. 

Riing's father, Achuol Doar, told SBS News the grief of his son's sudden death was staggering. 

"It was shock. I had a lot of tears. I couldn't believe that he passed away," he said. "And from that day, our family fell apart.

"It is a day we will remember in my life as a bad day in my life."

'We don't want such deaths to happen again'

Coming from South Sudan, the family had little experience around the water. Since Riing's death, that has started to change. 

Mr Doar said he is actively spreading the message of the importance of water safety with Australia's South Sudanese community. 

"It hurts when you lose someone in the circumstances we did. We don't want anyone else to experience this," he said. 

Royal Life Saving NSW has launched a new campaign to improve water safety in multicultural communities, particularly cultural groups over-represented in the drowning death numbers. 

According to RLS NSW data, 86 people drowned over the 2020/21 summer period. Twenty-eight of the drownings were in NSW and one third of those people were from multicultural backgrounds.

Nationally, people born overseas representing about a quarter of all drowning deaths, most of which occur at the beach.

As part of the campaign, Nepalese, Arabic and Chinese language materials and outreach is hoping to increase awareness of the danger. 

Mr Doar will be assisting to spread the message amongst parents and youths in the South Sudanese community in Australia. 

Riing Doar was school captain, and one day dreamed of becoming a scientist.
Riing Doar was school captain, and one day dreamed of becoming a scientist.
SBS News

"I will get involved to pass on the message as much as I can - and make sure that they get more information as much as they can - people newly arrived his country," he said. 

"With the death of Riing, we want to show the world - we don't want other people to die [from drowning] like him.

"We don't want such deaths to happen again in our community."

This mother explains why she’s taking swimming lessons at 34
This mother explains why she’s taking swimming lessons at 34

Lauren Battaglia, cultural engagement co-ordinator at Royal Life Saving Society Australia, said reaching those multicultural communities at highest risk has been a key focus of the new campaign. 

"A lot of countries often don't have access to waterways and consistent swimming lessons and there are barriers that happen that occur when coming to Australia with learning about water safety," she said. 

"Particularly, when accessing lessons for information being in language, and just the general understanding - and desire to learn about swimming.

"We found that a lot of the responses have been, 'just don't go near the water' - which is not always the best. We're trying to promote people to enjoy it and be safe around water and learn the skills."

Designed with input from people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, the resources will complement physical water safety training RLS NSW conducts for migrants. 

The tips include: don't go in the water alone, always wear a life jacket when boating and fishing, don't drink alcohol and learn swimming and water safety skills. 

'Gives us independence'

Nepalese Australian Rishi Acharya admits he previously did not understand the vulnerability of not being able to swim.

"I used to go to rivers back home when I was in Nepal. But this was just crossing river from one bank to another bank," Mr Acharya said. 

"I didn't have any swimming skills before I come to Australia."

Now, his wife and two children can swim, and he said they can feel confident planning holiday trips around water. 

"So it gives us now a kind of independence when we are around the water. We can freely enjoy all those recreational activities around Australian water," he said. 

Rishi Acharya, from the the Nepalese Australian Association, says he is spreading the message about the importance of water skills in his community.
Rishi Acharya says he is spreading the message about the importance of water skills in his community.
Royal Life Saving NSW

As general secretary of the Nepalese Australian Association, he said there is an awareness of how many Nepalese Australians have been in the national drowning death statistics over recent years.

"Every year for the last few years, we have been reading or listening to very tragic news about our community," he said. 

"And it is very emotional, very sad that it is a time or festival but we lost our loved one or a community member.

"You know all those drowning deaths happening [in the Nepalese community] in the last few years, they are preventable."

He said drowning is a "big issue" in his community, especially around holidays and long weekends such as Easter.

Researchers at UNSW are continuing to conduct research to identify strategies for effective education campaigns targeting subcontinental Asian communities, such as those from Indian, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Afghani, Bhutanese or Maldivian cultural backgrounds. 

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