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Indigenous teen starts charity to help teach Aboriginal kids how to swim

by Melinda Hayter and Hannah Laxton-Koone

Last year Piper Stewart realised she was the only Indigenous child in her swimming club at Griffith, in the New South Wales Riverina, and decided to do something about it. "I went home, and I was thinking about why and I realised not as many people have as much money to pay, because swimming lessons are pretty expensive," she said.

At first, the then 12-year-old wanted to teach Aboriginal children to swim herself but not being qualified, she started fundraising to assist Indigenous families wanting to send their children to swimming lessons.

"We started off with a raffle, selling chocolates, a Go-Fund-Me page and then we went a bit bigger and did a trivia night," Piper said.

With the help of her mother, Allison Stewart, Piper created Bambigi — a charitable organisation that helps to fund six months of swimming lessons for local Aboriginal children.

Bambigi means 'to swim' in the local Indigenous language of Wiradjuri

In the year and a half that Bambigi has been operating, it has helped more than 80 children attend swimming lessons. Ms Stewart said there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the community.

"Early on in the year, we had an Indigenous student that wasn't a swimmer, he has now made it to state [level] for the school swimming carnivals."

In January, the New South Wales Government awarded Bambigi with a $21,600 grant.

The money has been partly used to help pay for swimming lessons for children at a local pre-school and students from Tirkandi Inaburra, a community-run centre based in the nearby town of Coleambally, which provided a residential program for Aboriginal teenage boys.

Karen Thurston, the director of the Wiradjuri Pre-School, said parents had welcomed the Bambigi program.

"I think they were very pleased because a lot of our children don't do swimming lessons, and this is their first opportunity," Ms Thurston said.

Data from Royal Lifesaving Australia shows Indigenous people are four times more likely to die from drowning than non-Indigenous people.

It showed 26 per cent of Indigenous drowning deaths were children under the age of 10 and almost half occurred in rivers.

Griffith, which lies in the heart of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, has rivers, creeks, dams and open water-filled channels and canals which crisscross the countryside around the city.

Deb Della Franca, who operates a swim school in Griffith, praised Piper's maturity.

"It's not only a sport, it's a skill for life and I really believe the government should be able to help those in need [who] feel as though they can't afford to be able to have their children learn that skill," Ms Della Franca said. "Swimming lessons need to be accessible to everybody."

Along with helping young Aboriginal children learn vital skills, Piper is also hoping to instil a love of swimming in her peers. "I just love the feeling of being in the water," she said.

Piper would still like to fulfil her original plan of teaching Aboriginal children to swim.

"Hopefully when I'm 16, I will get a swimming course and finish that and then I might be able to come and help."

Article courtesy of ABC News

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