Craig and Hollie Dunn have a message for everyone: when it comes to children and water, be vigilant, always.
The Sydney couple lost their daughter Aria in December 2016. She was just 20 months.
Aria had been going to swimming lessons since she was six months old. The pool in the Dunns’ backyard had a fence that complied with all the regulations.
“She climbed through the doggy door, which she had never done before,” Hollie tells Mamamia, “and she climbed over the secure fence that we did have. She actually climbed over that fence and got into the water.”
The Dunns, who also have a son, Jett, have started a charity, Smiles 4 Aria. It’s aimed at promoting water safety and also supporting other people who have lost family members to drowning.
“So many people say to us, ‘I don’t know how you guys get up every single day – I would have curled up in the corner and that would have been it,’” Hollie says.
“One, we’ve got Jett, and two, Aria wouldn’t want us to just sit around and be miserable. She’s not here. We’ve got to live for her.”
The Dunns want to see government-funded swimming lessons for every child in Australia, and they also want first aid and CPR training to be funded by the government. They want to offer their support to other families who have suffered a drowning tragedy. Hollie says they could give advice on things like funeral arrangements.
“We had a celebrant who was absolutely amazing,” she says. “It wasn’t a very sad, down ceremony. It was more upbeat, exactly how Aria was. He wants to get to know your child so he can give the child the beautiful send-off they deserve.”
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The Dunns have also started a social media campaign where they’re asking people to take selfies with a sign reading “#Smiles4Aria” and post it to the charity’s Facebook page.
The selfies started as a way of remembering Aria, but now they’re aimed at raising awareness of water safety.
“If someone sees it and they’re home and they go out and check their pool area or they see something that’s a bit dangerous… if it makes a change, that’s something that we’re trying to do,” Craig says.
The message that the Dunns really want to spread is that everyone needs to be alert when children are near water, whether it’s the pool, the beach or the bath.
“Parents can turn their back for one minute and they think it’s only one minute and the child’s gone,” Hollie says.
“That’s all it takes,” Craig adds.
The Dunns believe it’s crucial to take children to swimming lessons and to keep taking them. But Craig says that doesn’t mean parents can relax.
“Taking a child to swimming lessons is only going to entice them to be in water because they realise that it’s fun,” he points out. “But a toddler, they cannot swim on their own.”
If the Dunns can save even one child from drowning, then they’ll feel their efforts have been worthwhile.
“We are doing what Aria wants us to do, and that’s saving someone else and saving another family from going through exactly what we have to live through every single day,” Hollie says. “It’s not just Craig and me, it’s our parents, and Jett. He’s only five years old and he’s lost his best friend. As parents, it’s really hard to see him not be able to have Aria any more.
“Starting the charity in Aria’s name, in her honour, and saving a life, then we’re doing what she’s asking us to do.”
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