Ethnic communities at greater risk, water-safety experts say – Custom Boxes Printing

MONTREAL – Dharmesh Bhai Patel and Dilpreet Singh had everything tolook forward to when their lives were cut short on May 26. The recent immigrants to Montreal, age 19 and 22, drowned at Okabeach when they accidentally waded into deep water. As local beaches gear up for the summer season, water-safetyexperts are calling for educational programs aimed at ethniccommunities, who have a higher risk of accidents involving water. New Canadians are four times more likely to be unable to swim thannative-born Canadians, according to the Lifesaving Society. New Canadians run a higher risk, considering that the aquaticaspect is not always part of their lifestyle, said RaynaldHawkins, executive director of the Quebec branch of the non-profitorganization.

Sometimes it s a question of being unfamiliar with waterways.Other times it s a question of not knowing water-safety rules thatmight not be universally practised in their country of origin, hesaid. Hawkins said the society is in negotiations with the provincialEducation Department to introduce the Swim to Survive program atelementary schools in Quebec. Offered to Grade 3 students acrossOntario, the program teaches basic survival skills like how totread water. A 2010 survey by Ipsos Reid for the Lifesaving Society found that79 per cent of recent immigrants planned outings to local beachesor swimming pools during the summer, but almost one-third feltnervous around water and half feared that their children coulddrown.

Chattar Singh Saini, director of the Gurdwaras Guru Nanak DarbarSikh temple in LaSalle, said the Sikh community is in shock overthe drownings. One of the victims, Dilpreet Singh, was a Sikh. Many members of the community have little knowledge of water safetybecause they never had the opportunity to swim or practise watersports in their homeland, Singh Saini said. Over here they have free time. Custom Bag Printing

They have freedom of means andthey want to use it. And they ignore the other part, that you watchfor the billboard saying the beach is not open and the lifeguard isnot there, he said. An awareness program targetting newcomers would help preventtragedies, Singh Saini suggested. Cecilia Escamilla, general director of the Centre d aide auxfamilles latino-americaines (CAFLA), said many children from LatinAmerican countries lack basic swimming skills. It s a problem that crops up at the organization s summer campfor children age 8 to 12. Custom Boxes Printing

We need to have one volunteer for everytwo children because many of the ones who have arrived recentlyhave never taken swimming lessons, she said. We might have to facilitate swimming lessons for children as soonas they arrive to avoid accidents like the one that happened, Escamilla suggested. Parents need to be reminded never to let children out of sight at abeach or pool, she added. A worldwide study by the International Life Saving Federation in2007 reported that water-safety practices have significantlyreduced drowning among children under age 5 in Western countriessuch as Canada. But easy access to water and the highpredominance of new immigrants many of whom are from countrieswithout a culture of safety around water heighten the risk ofdrowning, the report found. Color Booklet Printing

Deaths by drowning declined in Canada until 2004 but have startedto rise again, according to the Lifesaving Society. Twenty Quebecers have drowned so far this year, compared with 14 bythis time last year, the society said. Many of the children seen in the Montreal Children s HospitalTrauma Centre for water-related injuries are recent immigrants,said centre director Debbie Friedman. The reality is, it s forsure immigrant populations.

We see the same thing with roadsafety, she said. Quebec has Canada s highest rate of drowning among children underage 5, she noted. The main reason is the popularity of backyard pools, said MicheleMercier, injury-prevention director of the Quebec Red Cross. She urged parents to be vigilant, install fences around pools andput life jackets on all family members who can t swim.

The water is a wonderful place to be, Friedman said, but youhave to use judgment. June 2-9 is Water Safety Week. For tips and information from theRed Cross, visit tinyurl.com/7w4yxjf mascot@montrealgazette.com.

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