A young Australian swimmer recently took to the water to raise funds for a surfing project that allows people seeking asylum in Australia to enjoy one of the country’s most iconic past times.
David Wise, 27, participated in the 5km Cole Classic ocean swim on February 7, with the aim of ensuring that a group of people seeking asylum has the skills and knowledge to enjoy the water safely.
The program also aims to promote the social connectedness of vulnerable individuals by allowing them to meet new people and learn new skills in a welcoming environment.
An avid swimmer who trains with the Bondi Penguins and Pelicans, Mr Wise became interested in the SSI initiative after seeing media about participants enjoying the surf last year when the program officially launched.
“Like a lot of Sydney-siders, watching this video really struck a chord,” Mr Wise said. “I think that we can all agree that sometimes we take our lifestyle for granted; so being able to share this experience, especially with those less fortunate and who have been caught up in such difficult situations, is pretty special.
“What I love about this initiative is that it’s really based around inclusiveness – a central part of our Australian values. Sometimes I feel that this may be lost on new migrants, who might sometimes feel like an outsider when first coming to our country and learning our way of life.”
Mr Wise was also inspired by the enthusiasm of a group of first generation Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who swim at the local pool where he trains.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said it was encouraging to see Mr Wise’s efforts to help vulnerable people.
“David’s support will enable the Surfing Without Borders program to continue into the future and to increase the community involvement of more people who are seeking asylum in Australia,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“This inaugural program last year was a resounding success. Participants developed a strong sense of comradery, made important community connections, and improved their confidence and English skills — all while learning to surf.
“We applaud David’s efforts, and he has set a fabulous example for others to follow.”
The Surfing Without Borders initiative also helps people seeking asylum to take their minds off the challenges they face, which has a positive effect on their mental health and wellbeing, Ms Roumeliotis added.
Mr Wise is the first official fund-raiser to use SSI’s new Everyday Hero platform, which enables members of the public to fund-raise for SSI’s support programs and initiatives for vulnerable families and individuals. People can now fund-raise using the platform by participating in events like fun runs and ocean races, or by creating their own events, such as trivia nights, morning teas or sausage sizzles.
Mr Wise ended up taking out eighth place in the event and exceeded his original fund-raising goal of $1,800.
“It was really nice to get such strong support from my family and friends for an organisation that I'm really passionate about and that is doing great things for our community,” he said.
“I was a bit nervous beforehand as I had only ever swum only half that distance and I come from a sprinting background. But I was lucky to have a good run early, and although I fell apart in the last kilometre, I managed to come in eighth, which was surprising and gratifying for all the training that I was doing.”
You can still donate to support Mr Wise’s fund-raising efforts. Click here for more information or to donate.