The tragic death of a Syrian refugee teenager is leading to a wave of free swimming lessons for other refugee children across San Diego County.
Syrian teenager Mohammed Mostafa, 17, who arrived to San Diego as a refugee three months ago, drowned during his first visit to a California beach. The teenager was swept away in a strong rip current in Mission Beach in April.
Mostafa's death highlighted the need for water safety education for Syrian children who arrive in the U.S., unable to swim.
As a result, the non-profit Hearts 4 Refugees started organizing informal swim gatherings. The organization formed last year when roughly 1,200 Syrian refugees arrived in San Diego.
Volunteers in the group sponsor refugee families and serve as connection points for local resources - all with the hopes of helping them get settled.
However, with more pressing needs, like finding jobs or getting toothpaste for the families, swimming lessons did not top the list of concerns until the April drowning.
“They’ve fled war, lived in refugee camps and it’s really hard for me to understand how does someone survive all of that and then you lose your son on the safe shores, which turned out to be not safe,” said Mali Woods-Drake, a volunteer.
Through the group’s growing network, they have recruited families to host the swim lessons, found instructors to teach them, and found translators to bridge the language gap.
The group is hosting a fundraiser tomorrow from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Del Mar Pizza. 20 percent of proceeds will go to the organization and their swimming lessons program.