Afghan women learn to swim and drive as they adjust to Australian life

Ten months after arriving in Australia from Afghanistan, Rabia Johini has taken on a new challenge: learning to swim.

The 32-year-old, who left Afghanistan after the Taliban took over, had never stepped foot in a swimming pool until last month, when she decided to join a program that offers free swimming lessons to Afghan women newly arrived in the west. from Sydney.

“When I came here, I was very interested in learning,” she said.

“One of my wishes was to become a good swimmer.

“The few lessons I have participated in have been very good and I am learning very quickly.”

More than 40 women have participated in the program, which is run by the non-profit community organization Afghan Women on the Move (AWOTM).

Weekly classes are held in a private indoor pool in Auburn with swim instructors.

The women wear color-matched burkinis and tie-dyed swim caps, which are given to them as part of the program.

AWOTM founder and director Maryam Zahid said it provided a culturally safe space for the group.

“It’s a women-only approach to your needs,” she said.

“It helps them trust the program, feel comfortable and safe.”

A woman stands in front of a swimming pool.
AWOTM Move founder Maryam Zahid says her organization aims to empower Afghan women.(ABC News: Housnia Shams)

Ms. Zahid said that in landlocked Afghanistan, learning to swim is not seen as a priority, swimming pools are in short supply, and women often face cultural barriers when trying to participate.

“We had women who [experienced] their first time in the water, so it was a life-changing experience for them,” he said.

An average of 288 people drown in Australia each year, and around a quarter of them are born abroad.

Royal Life Saving Australia said research has shown that adapted and culturally appropriate swimming and water safety programs can help engage multicultural communities.

“There are communities that, for cultural and religious reasons, may not have been able to access swimming and water safety education programs,” said Stacy Pidgeon, national research and policy manager for Royal Life Saving.

“So it’s very important that we make our aquatic facilities and our programs welcoming … but also that they meet the cultural and religious needs of all of our communities.

“We want everyone to be able to safely enjoy the water with their family and friends.”

get behind the wheel

A woman holds an L-plate next to another woman in front of a car.
Zohra Farzam (left) is confident that she will get her driver’s license after taking part in lessons with her instructor. (ABC News: Housnia Shams)

The organization also offers free driving lessons for 20 newly arrived Afghan women.

Zohra Farzam, a mother of two, fled Afghanistan nine months ago and has completed her tenth lesson.

Ms. Farzam said that getting her driver’s license would allow her to be more independent.

“Driving here is very important,” he said.

“You can’t go to a doctor’s appointment or to work, study, you can’t get anywhere.”

His driving instructor, Tooba Lasu, said there has been overwhelming demand for the program since it began.

“They [the women] they are happy with me teaching them because we speak the same language,” he said.

“It’s not easy for them to get their L’s… they just arrived a few months ago without speaking English.

“But you know how important it is [to get a licence] as they do not want to depend on anyone [to get around].”

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