Ari* was born in 2013 in a detention centre in Brisbane, Australia. His mother, who had been pregnant throughout her 3-month journey from India, had come to Australia by a boat which had passed through the islands of Indonesia and then was intercepted by Australian Border Police. Ari’s mum was 22 when she arrived as a refugee in Australia. She was 4 months pregnant and accompanied by Ari’s father, a man who had already begun to be violent even before they had left their small village in India.
For 2 years Ari and his parents waited to be given asylum in Brisbane. By then, the family had welcomed their second child, a little girl Sita, this time in a detention centre in Darwin where they had been sent to wait out their final weeks.
When the family were finally issued bridging visas, they moved to Sydney where Ari’s father had been offered work. The violence Ari’s mum was experiencing had steadily been getting worse but at 24, with two young children and limited proficiency in English, she didn’t see a way to leave. They were finally settled in Australia and as Ari’s mum said, “we had been through so much together, India, the boat, detention and our children, I felt bound to him.” But as the months passed and Ari’s mum became pregnant with her third child, she knew she had to leave.
“We had been through so much together, India, the boat, detention and our children, I felt bound to him.”
Ari and his family are now living at one of WAGEC’s crisis refuges. Ari is now 8 years old and growing into a beautiful, energetic young boy. During the summer holidays earlier this year, WAGEC, as part of the SEED Program, organised an intensive swimming program for the school aged kids who were living at the crisis refuges. Ari’s mum was hesitant and nervous. Ever since her experience on the boat she had steered clear of bodies of water. But Ari was persistent, and she agreed to go if she could sit and watch.
And so, each session she sat and watched as Ari learnt to hold his breath, to tread water and finally on day 3, to float above the surface. As Ari’s mum sat on the bench beside the pool, watching her son play and float eyes closed above the water, she began to speak about her experience on the boat, the flashbacks, and the fear. She showed photos and spoke about her desire to confront the water now that she had seen Ari become so comfortable.
Why don’t we start in the shallow pool? She agreed and we walked over. Slowly she rolled her tights up and stepped in. She signalled for Sita to join her, and they walked further in so that their legs were covered. When Ari was finished his lesson, he ran over and joined his mum and sister in the pool. Slowly they got deeper, and Ari’s mum bent down to drag her hands through the water.
On the drive back to the refuge, while Ari and the rest of the kids were chatting in the back about their lesson, Ari’s mum lent over in the front seat and asked if there were any swimming lessons for mums. “I think I would like to try it” she said.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
Activities like swimming lesson give mums and children like Ari the opportunity to build confidence and connect with community as they build safe futures. However these types of programs reply on the generosity of people like you.
Donate today so that families like Ari's are supported to create safe and thriving futures.
*Ari and his family have still not been granted asylum to stay in Australia. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence and are on a temporary visa in Australia, here are some support resources: