Hamilton wellness program helps refugees conquer fears of water, loneliness

The Spectator Hamilton - The joy in the YWCA gym was undeniable as about 100 Syrian refugee women and girls laughed, danced, shared a meal and celebrated their new lives in Canada.

The women were part of a group of 200 who participated in the Road to Wellness program run by the YWCA in collaboration with Wesley Urban Ministries, the agency now working with government- assisted refugees.

The free program, which started last September and ended with Thursday's celebration, provided women's health education, exercise and nutrition classes, and surprisingly, taught the women how to swim — a terrifying experience for those who escaped across the Mediterranean into Europe by boat before being accepted to Canada.

"It was terrifying for them and for me," said Kate Stinson, the 17-year-old lifeguard who taught them to swim. "None spoke English. None had been in a pool before.

"They all had lifebelts on and they were all very nervous. But by the last week, 10 of them were diving," Stinson added.

The program also gave the new arrivals a social network as they got to know each other — and a sense of belonging in their new country.

YWCA health and wellness co-ordinator Rana Aldibs said the transformation has been amazing. The women have higher self-esteem, are more comfortable dealing with others, and understand the importance of being physically active, she said.

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