Journey of hope – one family’s trauma after small boat crossing

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Following the traumatic experience crossing the channel, their son had developed a fear of water so extreme he couldn’t even wash his hands.

When we received a request for a pair of swimming shorts, little did we know that the story behind it would be one of such depth and courage.

Six year old Hassan’s family were forced to flee conflict in the Middle East, embarking on a treacherous journey to the UK in the hope of a better life. On the final leg of this journey, they found themselves on a small boat crossing, on a vessel packed with men, women and children, navigating the English Channel in rough seas. The passengers were scared as the weather began to change, and when a huge wave crashed against the boat, young Hassan was swept overboard. Struggling in the cold water, the boy was fortunately pulled back onto the boat, and eventually, he and his family were able to make it to shore. The immediate danger had passed but the memories of this traumatic incident would stay with them and him for a lifetime.

Upon arrival in the UK, the family was registered and taken to emergency accommodation. They literally had nothing. But there was hope and support on hand, in the form of the Inclusion Team at First Community Health and Care, who are very experienced at helping families in the most challenging situations. As a team who have worked closely with us for years, they knew they could rely on Stripey Stork for help. Thanks to all the donations we receive, we were able to provide them with all the clothing and essentials they asked for to meet this family’s basic needs straight away.  A little later on came the request for the swimming shorts for Hassan. On the surface, a simple enough request, but we had no idea how significant they were going to be.

Following the traumatic experience of crossing the channel, Hassan had developed a fear of water so extreme he couldn’t even wash his hands. There was no doubt he needed treatment to overcome this trauma, but the waiting lists were long and the nursery nurse assigned to the family was worried about the long-term impact this would have on his life if not addressed sooner. She knew he needed to be desensitised to water so put a plan of action in place. This plan would gently introduce him to water and ultimately work towards him being able to go swimming. They knew there would be challenges ahead, especially once he went to school, but believed that in time they could help him to feel more confident around water.

Small, incremental steps were needed. The first was to make water fun by adding colour to the water and encouraging him to dip his fingertips in. Then they introduced bubbles. This was a new concept, so he was understandably frightened. The nursery nurse encouraged the family to get involved, and although there was a language barrier, they were able to make this fun through laughter. For the first time, he felt bubbles burst on his skin and the fear he instinctively felt started to slowly fade.


A few weeks later, the swim shorts from Stripey Stork became a crucial part of the plan. This was a big step. The boy didn’t want to go anywhere near a shower, let alone a swimming pool. Realising it would be a slow process, the first stage was to wear the swimming shorts around the room so he could get used to them. The next step was to wear the shorts and walk towards the shower. By taking their time, he started to feel safe and didn’t want to take them off.

Finally, it was time to try the shower. First an arm, then a foot – all while wearing the swimming shorts, which had now become a positive association. Each little step was progress in letting go of his fear and putting the traumatic experience behind him.

The family worked closely with the nursery nurse and Inclusion Team during this time. This wasn’t just for the young boy’s benefit but a healing process for the whole family. They were listened to and shown kindness from the start, which gave the family hope that things would get better.

We feel pleased to have played a small part in this story. We’re sure that the family who passed on the swim shorts their child had outgrown could not have imagined that they would be key to unlocking this young boy’s deep-rooted fear of water and bringing hope in the most difficult of circumstances.

First Community Health and Care are an employee-owned social enterprise, providing NHS community healthcare services to people living in East Surrey and parts of West Sussex. Their Inclusion Team is a specialist team of health visitors, a community engagement officer and community nursery nurses who work with vulnerable families from the below communities across Surrey:

  • Families in temporary or emergency accommodation and those experiencing homelessness
  • Asylum Seekers and Refugees in emergency accommodation
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, Showmen and Boater communities.

In 2023, they won a Burdett Nursing Award for Complex Needs in Primary Care.

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