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Welcoming refugees with swimming lessons

Janet Barber has been teaching swimming lessons for 45 years at Janet Barber Aquatics, a registered Red Cross program. As a Red Cross Training Partner, Janet has watched the Syrian refugee crisis with a unique perspective – and that perspective has lead her to create a free swimming program for Syrian refugee children..

Starting in the fall of 2015, students in Janet’s program, as well as their parents and friends, have been actively involved in welcoming refugees to Canada, which started with the “Welcome to Canada” shoebox campaign.

Janet explains that from November through January, “we filled over 300 clear shoe boxes with things that each individual would think that our new neighbours might really need once they move into their homes. Some boxes had a small note enclosed, telling them their favourite place or thing to do in Canada. Many boxes were made up by families that had also immigrated, and they shared their experiences and words of encouragement.”  

Recognizing that many refugee children have had an interruption in their formal education, Janet and her students began to fill backpacks with school supplies. So far they have filled over 100 bags with supplies for all grade levels.

As more families settle into their new communities, Janet says “learning to swim is slowly becoming a priority”.  Seeing a need for access to swimming lessons, Janet Barber Aquatics announced that starting April 10, 2016 they will be offering free swimming lessons to Syrian refugee children, and they encourage other swimming programs to do the same.

"In Canada, swimming is viewed as a life skill that everyone should be exposed to.  Everyone should learn how to stay safe and protect themselves as well as others in and around water. The positive effects of swimming lessons reach far beyond the pool environment. Having fun, getting exercise and feeling successful from learning something new will help build self-esteem.” 

For more information, contact Janet Barber at
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