A real highlight at the end of last year was the “Welcome to the Beach” program, offered in conjunction with CatholicCare and Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club.
More than 200 people, including refugees and international students, attended the two-day event at Bar Beach which aimed to introduce Newcastle’s famous surf culture and provide essential safety advice.
The program encourages new arrivals to use the beach over the summer period, offers information about surf safety, and introduces families to volunteer lifeguards.
DARA project liaison officer John Sandy said the program removed a sense of fear that new arrivals to Newcastle could have about entering an unknown environment.
"Participants feel welcomed, they feel a sense of belonging and they have fun," Mr Sandy said.
For some of those participants, the effect was profound. One was Lorin Ramo, 19, a recently arrived refugee from Syria.
“Great trip at the beach,” Ms Ramo said. “I was so excited to see the beach and to see blue water and play with water, as I did not see the beach before coming to Australia. I have never visited the beach in my country. We did not have the opportunity to see the sea because of the difficult conditions.
“When I came to Australia, I participated in CatholicCare and it helped me a lot in many areas. They organised a trip to help new refugees see the sea. I cannot count the beauties we saw and all the new refugees. I don't know how to thank them. I say with all my heart, thank you very much,” she said.
“It was a great opportunity for me. They encouraged me to go on this trip. It was one of life's best pleasures to go out on this trip with the help of CatholicCare and to share moments of happiness and comfort with my family and friends and with all the new people I met.”
Ms Ramo said the beach gave her great emotional comfort by helping her to regain her energy and enthusiasm and forget the hardships she has endured.
“One of the most amazing experiences I had on this trip was seeing people of many nationalities and getting to know them. It was very beautiful. It was nice to get to know each other and everyone was happy. Another experience was seeing the sunset at the beach. The enchanting scenery took me to distant worlds, and I hope this journey never ends.”
Ms Ramo said she would be careful not to forget the beach safety instructions she has been taught. “We did the program with CatholicCare before going to the beach. It is necessary to be careful in the water, not to swim long distances for fear of any emergency.”