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From Africa to Henley Beach lifesaver

by Rachel Broadley

Mathew Chimu, who achieved his bronze medallion at the Henley Surf Life Saving Club.Mathew Chimu, who achieved his bronze medallion at the Henley Surf Life Saving Club.

A few years ago he could barely swim, but now UniSA student Matthew Chimu (pictured right), has been awarded a News Corp Pride of Australia Fair Go medal after becoming the first African to become a fully fledged lifesaver.

Matthew, 19, arrived in Australia four years ago after fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo with his brother and sister.

A Foundation Studies student, Matthew says he first became interested in lifesaving because he wanted to help people who were unfamiliar with their new environments, especially at the beach. A 2010 Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Report revealed that 32 per cent of people who drowned at the coast were of a foreign ethnicity.

Shortly after arriving in Adelaide, Matthew completed the ‘On the Same Wave’ beach safety program and then joined Henley Surf Life Saving Club.

“I took swimming lessons, and it was hard at the beginning,” Matthew says.

“It’s (the beach safety program) physically demanding. You have to know how to swim and do training for CPR and first aid, as well as radio operations training. You also have to learn about the dangers you can face when you’re swimming, such as what the beach and the local currents are like.

“At the beginning when you start swimming you feel like you can’t do it; one of the people I started with actually quit in the first week. I told him to keep practising, it will get easier, and now he is enjoying it and feels proud because he can swim.

“Most people don’t really know where it’s safe for them to swim at the beach. If you swim where people can’t see you, it’s hard for them to save you.”

After undertaking training in first aid, learning how to give CPR and use a defibrillator, as well as mastering swimming, he was awarded his Bronze Medallion, making him a qualified lifesaver.

The Fair Go medal is awarded to an Australian permanent resident or citizen, born overseas, who has enriched Australia through their community involvement, hard work and willingness to embrace their new home.

Matthew says he was delighted to win the medal, and it has now inspired him to extend his vision beyond the horizon of the beach.

“Since I received this medal my vision has grown; I want to take this opportunity to inspire other people and educate them, because if I can save people on the beach, we can also save them in other areas by giving them the opportunity to fulfil their dreams,” he says.

“My vision is to help migrants integrate in the Australian community. I volunteer at the Migrant Resource Centre, and help new migrants by showing them how to get to new places; I also help them to find sports clubs and help them to get a job by directing them to the places where they can find work.

“I want them to be off the street and find something that can occupy them.”

Matthew was one of the three finalists in the Fair Go Medal category at the National Pride of Australia Awards in Sydney in mid-November.

He will continue his studies at UniSA as he starts a degree in electronic engineering next year.