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Swim lessons help refugees put trust in once-perilous seas

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, the sea is a constant reminder of a trauma for the refugees who crossed the water in search of security. But a group of swimming instructors in Lesbos, Greece, is working to help them overcome their fear and reconnect with the water.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have heard the harrowing tales of migrants making their way to Greece. Many do not survive the trip across the Aegean Sea.

    Tonight, as part of our NewsHour Shares, a look at trying to get refugees comfortable with water and the sea to help alleviate stress.

    Independent producer Micah Garen sent this report from Lesbos, Greece.

  • Isidoros Lapsatis,

     Lifeguard Hellas: My name is Isidoros Lapsatis. I’m Greek. I’m from an island called Kefalonia.

    And I work with Lifeguard Hellas on Lesbos. We do swimming lessons here for the refugees.

    I think it’s important for the refugees to enjoy the water. You know, it’s something. They have had traumatizing experiences. Most of them, some of them, if not many of them, can’t swim.

    I believe these people deserve to have fun and relax, and appreciate the water, you know, the sea, the way we do.

    Have you ever been in the sea?

  • Man:

    Yes, in the boat. Not like this, man. I’m scared sometimes, when I think about getting in the boat and driving. Different from being in the water.

  • Isidoros Lapsatis:

    Isn’t this better?

  • Man:

    This is much better.

  • Man

    (through interpreter): We risked our lives to find a place where we can be assured that there is security. We do that because, back home, there is war. There is suffering. There are a lot of things that happen in our country that we can’t live with.

  • Man

    (through interpreter): Here it’s good, because we can swim a little. It takes away stress.

  • Nina Gassmann,

    Swimming Instructor, Lifeguard Hellas

  • :

    Many are scared of water, so we try that they relax in water, because you can really only swim when you really, like, are relaxed, your body, and you can concentrate on swimming and doing the movements.

    So, we first do something like that. And it’s surprisingly — like, many people are fascinated how easy it is to do, but it’s really relaxing.

    And it helps them a lot to gain trust in water and how to swim. And then we slowly start by always with a floatie or some kind of thing, so they float on water with their upper chest. We hold their hands and then try to do with their feet like this.

  • Lia Stavropoulou, , Lifeguard Hellas:

    Coordinator It’s really important for the people to be connected with the water, to feel like the sea is part of them, and not something that took away their family.

    So, it’s like a way to get free people out. It’s like no borders you see everywhere, no borders. If people are afraid of the water, it’s something like the border for them.

    So, what we do here is come to get the people familiarized with the water and feel comfortable and play games, because water is fun.

  • Man

    (through interpreter): Yes, it’s good. The water is good. We should continue like this. People should help us do this. We do have water in Africa, but here it is good, better. It’s good to swim.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Micah Garen, a little bit of good news in a very tough part of the world.

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