Former Aleppo resident doesn’t mind southern chill

It took time for Syrian former refugee Fouad Ghanam (15) to warm to Warrington’s chilly waters, but now he has to be dragged out.

"The water is warmer in Syria. People swim in the middle of winter," he said yesterday.

Fouad was one of about 15 teenagers being instructed at the beach  as part of a surf life-saving holiday programme.

It was his second year attending, having heard about it from a friend at King’s High School in Dunedin.

The week-long programme helped him make "so many friends", he said.

"I had a really good time. I don’t have anything else to do in the holidays."

Fouad has lived in Dunedin for one and a-half years.

Despite the warmer sea temperatures in Syria, he did not often visit the beach, as his home city of Aleppo was far from the coast.

He  had quickly learned how to  surf, he said.

Fouad Ghanam (middle, pink bib) leads a pack of water-smart teenagers as they run down Warrington...
Fouad Ghanam (middle, pink bib) leads a pack of water-smart teenagers as they run down Warrington Beach yesterday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
"I’m OK ...  not bad."

Head instructor Isaac Davies said a few Syrian former  refugees had joined the programme in the last two years.

"For them this is really, really cold and really daunting, but now we’re having to drag them out of the water."

They seemed to really enjoy it, he said.

"Seeing them as passionate about the ocean as I was. 

"It’s the biggest tick in the box, really."

It was a great way for people with English as a second language to make friends, he said.

"Some of these other kids have been really interested and come up and ask questions. 

"It’s been a bit of an eye-opener for them. 

"Basic things like how they can’t eat pork or gelatin."

Last year, Fouad could barely speak English, and it was great to see the change, he said.

"He’s really had a boost of confidence."

The course was about teaching  as many children as possible  how to be safe at the beach, Mr Davies said.

Activities included surfing, body-surfing, gathering cockles and understanding hazards.

It could lead to new lifeguard recruitments.

"About seven have come through the programme in the last five years. It’s about retaining and gaining members and not making it too hard to get into it."

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