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Swimming lessons take Te Reo beyond school and home

Jessica Swan
Te Reo lessons 1
Te Reo swimming lessons at Wharenui pool  Supplied

"It's an official language of our country and everything that can be done to support that should be," says Te Puni Kōkiri advisor.

In partnership with Te Puni Kōkiri, Wharenui Amateur Swimming Club is running a programme where qualified swim teachers will coach young swimmers in fluent Te Reo.

Te Waipounamu (South Island) Te Puni Kōkiri senior advisor Paula Rigby said the lessons play an important role in normalising Te Reo outside of a traditional home or school learning environment.

She said supporting these lessons was showing youth they could connect with the Māori community in a way that's unique to them through their language. She reiterated the value of offering opportunities that provide more than just a "smattering" of Te Reo.

Wharenui sports centre general manager Jen Hooper said these lessons were an opportunity to not only coach swimming but offer life skills and engage with wider whanau. 

The swim club has worked closely with Te Waka Pounamu in Lyttelton to provide a safe and comfortable environment for their athletes to learn to swim. The pilot sessions have been held on a Friday night at the Wharenui sports centre, where the facilities were also opened to extended family during the evening.

Jen Hooper said it was a pleasure to play a part, as "it takes a village to raise a child."

Although the pilot lessons had been interrupted due to lockdown restrictions, she said they hope to offer a consistent Te Reo coaching program in the wake of 2021.

City councillor Yani Johanson said it’s essential that as many people as possible, from all cultures, can learn to swim. He said if language is a barrier, especially for Māori individuals, then this should be addressed.

"The other really critical issue is that Māori and Pacifica peoples are overrepresented in drowning statistics, so anything we can do to save lives is really important," he said.

According to Water Safety New Zealand, nearly 20 percent of people who drowned in the last two years have been Māori

Chair of the city council's Multicultural Subcommittee Jimmy Chen said it was important for these kinds of opportunities to be offered in many different languages to cater to the diversity of Christchurch.

He said while it was council's responsibility to support these initiatives, the community needed to get on board as well.

A grant from the Halswell-Riccarton-Hornby Community Board will continue to help fund the swim programme in partnership with the Ministry of Māori Development.