Sally Bower

Ishar Multicultural Women's Health Centre

image of Sally BowerSally Bower from the Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Centre is passionate about ensuring those from multicultural and refugee families have an opportunity to learn to swim. Although she was born in Australia her family is Macedonian and her parents have come from a refugee background. She says “I know a little bit about how people are feeling when they come from one country to another; the sacrifices and losses. I guess I just want to support families and strengthen them so they can have a better life in our community.”

Sally’s been involved with Royal Life Saving Society WA for 6 years now, and received a WA Associate Award earlier this year for the work she’s done through Ishar to pave the way for hundreds of women and children to have swimming lessons they would otherwise have missed out on.

Sally says it started when she realized many women from migrant backgrounds felt unable to get involved in swimming;

“They really wanted to get in the water but, particularly women from Muslim backgrounds, they couldn’t really go and swim in the public pools because of the restrictions with clothing and modesty.”

Ishar started offering swimming sessions at a Zest health club to address this. “We had the doors closed and they could come and swim and they loved it. They’d put 2 dollars in a jar and you didn’t know who would come from one day to the next and it was a little chaotic but very enjoyable for the women.”

As the classes grew a partnership began with Royal Life Saving Society WA and the program became more structured. “We asked the women to register, got instructors on board and started swimming lessons like you would find anywhere else. You could see the progress of people; some just started with overcoming their fear of water, then achieved a level and went on to another.”

They hit a hurdle when Zest closed down and they moved to the Leisurepark Balga. According to Sally this change was a concern for the women; “They were worried because there would be men there, so we researched and found there were modest swimming costumes for women from a Muslim background called Burkinis, so the women made their own.”

The program later expanded to Merriwa and Cannington and Sally has seen the amazing impact it’s had.

“A lot of the women haven’t got much money; they’re single mums, new migrants or on humanitarian visas, so for them to be able to afford these fantastic lessons was really amazing. They’re also very lonely and isolated so the swimming gives them another aspect to their lives. The mums are the linchpins of the families and if they feel good it’s like a rippling effect to the rest of the family.”

In recent years school holiday swimming programs have begun for the children from these families, while the women have been provided with Heartbeat Club classes where they learn about safety in the water and CPR.

Sally says it’s vital that these programs continue; “Swimming is a way of life here because we’re surrounded by water in Australia. But a lot of these migrants come from landlocked countries and have never had the chance to swim. Sadly we’ve seen some deaths in these communities and nobody wants to see anyone drown so it’s important that everyone has the opportunity to learn to swim.”

Everyone can be a lifesaver.

Watch our video and find out how easy it is to learn first aid and CPR. You never know when you might need it.


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