Program provides free swim lessons to refugee kids

Lessons are beginning tonight at Arbor Crossing apartments.

Local groups are taking swift action after the drowning of a Boise teen.

KTVB reported in July when a 15-year-old died at Quinn's Pond.

He was a refugee who had only been in Boise for just over a week.

Now, just a month after his death, a program to prevent similar tragedies in our community is taking shape.

The whole idea is to make the swim lessons more accessible -- in particular for refugee families -- but also for any child who needs them.

Those lessons are beginning tonight at the Arbor Crossing apartment complex in Boise.

The hope is to prevent drownings, one of the leading causes of death for children under 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"We have been so fortunate in that the number of community organizations that have been electrified to do something around this issue since Dieudonne Eca died," said Julianne Donnelly Tzul, International Rescue Committee.

Back in July, 15-year-old Dieudonne Eca drowned in Quinn's Pond.

He and his family had just arrived in Boise nine days earlier after fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The tragedy now strengthening the push for better access to swimming education for refugee children.

"We do a lot of thought about folks safety, economically how to make sure they're independent and able how to live and pay for all the things you need to pay for here, and we do a pretty good job of getting people that independence," said Tzul.

But Tzul says water safety is an area that needed improvement, especially since many refugees didn't grow up in a place where playing in water is a cultural practice.

"There's often not recreation culture around swim and not swim teaching available,” said Tzul.  "We have a recreation culture around a river, around lakes, around ponds, and all of these have different types of dangers."

Now a pilot program called “Refugees in Swim Education, Rise!” will provide free lessons to children between four and 14 years old.

It was put together by a number of community groups including the International Refugee Community, Boise Parks and Recreation and the Treasure Valley YMCA.

"The ability to jump in, surface safely, turn be able to grab on to objects while they're in water and know how to do it. Be able to float, swim, float, so get themselves to safety," said Mike Kapuscinski, Association Aquatics and Community Events Director for the YMCA.

The lessons will run for the next two weeks at the Arbor Crossing apartment complex, making what many say are lifesaving skills available to the most vulnerable.

"This allows us to come here where there is a critical mass of kids that need these programs,” said Kapuscinski. “It gives the parents the ability to not have to worry about getting them to the Y at a certain time, we are already here and we are in the community and what could be easier?"

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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