It was August 2015. I had just returned from a three-day intensive teaching retreat up north that marked the start of my career as a full time teacher (I had been partial load for seven years before that). I stood, lost in thought and marveling at my first very own desk in the office. It was a moment of bliss and what I can only describe as teacher haven, when all of the excitement came crashing down in an instant. I noticed a private message from a former student on a social media platform, and in it, he was informing me that the victim in a recent drowning death at Heart Lake Conservation area (Professor Lake, if you want to appreciate the irony) was one of my former students, Satvir Singh. My heart sank, and I felt paralyzed with utter disbelief.
A few days later, I went to the candle light vigil held in his honour held at Professor Lake near where the incident had taken place. Many of his friends and also former and current students had shown up, too. I learned that Satvir's tragic death was a complete freak accident. He was out with his cousin for a stroll, and wanted to watch the sunset. It was a hot day, so he rolled up his pants to cool his feet. What he did not know was that Professor Lake is shallow at first, but drops off vertically barely a couple of meters away from the shore (warning signs are few and far, as are life saving rings). He accidentally stepped too far, lost his balance and then his life. He did not know how to swim, and his cousin could not catch him and save him.
At one point, I asked his friends "Do YOU know how to swim?" and they looked at me incredulously, and shook their heads. They either never had the opportunity, no clean body of water to swim in, nobody to teach them, or it was just not appropriate to undress to go bathing in public.
That really opened my eyes. I am a good and enduring swimmer, and so are my kids because as a good Canadian mom, "of course" you bring them to all of the swimming lessons. The only choice they had was they could go happy or they could go unhappy, but they were going. But I also had a traumatic event at a very young age that I had almost forgotten about. At the age of three, I was feeding ducks in a pond back in my hometown in Germany and had fallen head first into the cold water (it was October). To this day, I still remember the total silence under water until someone grabbed me by my ankle and pulled me out. Because of that, I panicked and freaked out every time I was near water. At eight, I was the only kid in my neighbourhood who did not know how to swim, and my mom forced me to take swimming lessons, and thank God she did.
So faced with this tragedy, I thought of all the many international students we have at Humber, and I thought of the public City of Toronto pool we have on our premises. Why can't we have private lessons for our international students? As new full time faculty, we are asked to take on a community leadership project. It was a no-brainer for me to make "Swimming Lessons for International Students" my project