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Rae Andrews with the group of children at the Wellington Pool.

A group of local children have been taught water skills that may save their lives.

Ten Aboriginal children – ranging from the ages of four-and-a-half to 10 years old – from the Wellington area took part in an intensive program teaching them valuable water skills.

The children attended the Wellington pool to participate in the NSW Office of Sport and Recreation’s Swim to Survive program.

Helen Swan from Barnardos said many of the children go to the Bell and Macquarie rivers, but hadn’t had any previous swimming training.

“Because so many of the kids already swim in the rivers, it’s so important to get them some training so they could know what to do in case of an emergency,” Ms Swan said.

“The aim was to – if not to teach the kids to swim – at least teach them how to be able to save themselves.”

The children were divided into two groups based on their confidence.

“The program is mostly about the kid’s confidence in the water – and some of them didn’t have any before they could have these lessons,” Ms Swan said.

Rae Andrews of Swim 4 Kids taught the children.

She said parents face costs of more than $150 for 10 sessions, something many simply cannot afford.

“I’ve had a few people say they can’t afford it at the moment but will work out their finance and get back to me, and they don’t,” she said.

Ms Andrews believes a combination of government funding, early intervention and ongoing lessons would help in reducing the number of drownings in the state.

Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) national education manager, Penny Larsen, agreed mandatory swimming lessons at primary schools would be beneficial, with one in five students leaving primary school without the ability to swim 50 metres.

She said it would take a lot of collaboration across different groups to work on a solution.

A Department of Education spokesperson said water confidence, safety and survival skills are already included in the public schools’ Schools Swimming and Water Safety Scheme provided to students in Year 2 to 6.

Most NSW Catholic primary schools also have their own learn to swim programs despite not receiving specific funding for water safety, according to a Catholic Education Commission NSW spokesperson.

(This article was first published in the Wellington Times and was written by Nick Grimm.)

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