Group aims to promote water safety in Indian community

7:50 am on 13 November 2023
About 40 Koreans and Chinese attended Drowning Prevention Auckland’s workshop at Uretiti Beach in December 2022.

Photo: Supplied / Drowning Prevention Auckland

With a hot El Nino summer expected in New Zealand and more people heading to beaches, lakes and rivers, there are growing concerns for water safety and education.

New Zealand has one of the highest drowning rates in the OECD. And people of Asian ethnicity rank high in those statistics.

In an effort to prepare people for the water, Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPANZ) is running safety programmes for the local Indian community.

DPANZ Community education and events team leader Harry Aonga is running the course, and told First Up the number of drownings in the Indian community was quite high.

"The two drownings at Piha this year with those two Indian men who just arrived in New Zealand. They'd only been in New Zealand for a few months.

"Heading into summer that's what people want to do, because it's going to be hot.

"In India, they don't have too many waterways there. We've got plenty of waterways here in Aotearoa, especially in Tāmaki Makaurau. People just want to get cooled down and that's where I guess the trouble starts, and that's where they put themselves at risk of drowning."

The Waiwise programme focuses on 15 water competencies, Aonga said.

"That's around unpacking things like entering and exiting the water, orientation and so on. And part of that is swimming."

It also involved decision-making and assessing risks, he said.

Not just about swimming

"I think what other aquatic organisations get stuck on is that swimming is going to save your life. And that's where the 15 water competencies come in."

The Waiwise course helps enable someone to be more confident and able to make good decisions in, on and around water, Aonga said

"This one here is targeting the Indian community. Obviously we're not going to the pool, we're going straight to the open. But that's where most people drown, and at the Wero Whitewater Park, it's a controlled water environment.

"So we're not taking them straight to Piha or Long Bay, we're taking them somewhere where we know it's controlled. We can do things safely in that water.

"What they're going to do is life jacket safety, how to rescue someone without getting in the water, then the other part is experiencing some fun stuff with kayaking, paddle boarding and in the last part of it is just going white water rafting, just experiencing that Kiwi whitewater rafting culture that we have here.

"They get the full experience, not just bits and pieces on the day, so it's a cool programme," Aonga told First Up.

"We're trying to encourage the Indian community to engage in it because in terms of drowning they're quite high. And we want them to learn and understand what it's like to be in our waters here in Aotearoa."

Water safety education has changed

Swimming and water safety education has changed a lot in New Zealand since the days when almost every school had a pool, he said.

"A lot of schools, they have to find funding and they have to go to their pool facilities to learn aquatic skills. So it's quite sad, I mean, I remember growing up in the '80s getting chucked into the pools when I was at primary, and that's how I quickly learned about being safe in, on and around water."

But like most things it comes down to money and funding, he said. So it's now more common for schools to use community pool facilities instead of having their own pool.

Aonga is urging people around the country to make good decisions when around the water this summer.

"If you're going to the beach get some local knowledge, understand where the rips are, talk to the surf lifeguards, because they're the ones who can help you identify safe places. If you're on a patrolled beach, swim between the flags.

"It's the decision-making, and understand where you're going. If you're going fishing and boating, wearing a life jacket, understanding what the weather is.

"I just want people to go home safely to their loved ones so they can hug each other after a great day out in, on and around the water."

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