Syrian sisters swim, safely, in Germany
BERLIN, Germany — Sarah and Ysra Mardini are sisters from Syria. Their country is in the Middle East. It is the middle of a terrible war. Different groups are fighting for control of Syria.
Two months ago the sisters had to jump off a boat. They had to swim for their lives. It was taking on water and started to sink. The boat was carrying refugees to Greece. Refugees are people who are forced to leave their country to find a safe place in another country.
Now the sisters have found a home away from home at a pool in Berlin, Germany. The sisters were once among Syria's brightest swimming stars.
"Everything was good," said 20-year-old Sarah. "That was before the war."
"We Want To Have A Future"
The Mardini family moved around in Syria to avoid the fighting and tried to make sure their daughters could keep on swimming. Ysra, now 17, even swam for Syria at the world championships in Turkey in 2012. However, the war grew worse and fellow swimmers drifted away.
"We were 40 or 50 swimmers, and now we are maybe 10 or seven swimmers in Syria," said Sarah. "We want to have a future. I want to be in college."
The Mardini sisters finally left Syria in August. They joined a new wave of Syrians who had given up hope of seeing the war end soon. The sisters traveled to Lebanon and then Turkey. From there they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.
The Turkish Coast Guard drove their boat back on the first try. The second time they boarded a small boat. Within a half hour it was taking on water. It began to sink. There were too many people on the boat. Most of them could not swim.
Then the sea turned rough and the people threw all their bags into the water. Even that was not enough to keep the boat safe. It had to be made even lighter. Ysra, Sarah and three others who were also strong swimmers jumped out.
"I was not afraid of dying," Sarah said. If anything happened to her she could swim. The problem was that she had 20 people with her. "In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drown. So if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself."
A Tough Time At Sea
There were ropes hanging from the side of the boat. For three hours the sisters hung on to the ropes. Finally, the boat reached the Greek island of Lesbos.
Their trip was not done, however. They had to travel over land for weeks. The sisters made it to Germany in the end. Shortly after arriving in Germany's capital, Berlin, they got in touch with a swimming club near their refugee home.
The club has welcomed them and put them into a training program.
Sven Spannekrebs, their coach, says the sisters are doing very well.
Ysra, who specializes in the butterfly stroke, is aiming high. "Maybe when I learn German I will start school. I want to be a pilot," she said. "And with my swimming I want to reach the Olympics."
Her older sister, Sarah, is fighting government rules to bring the rest of the family to Germany. The German government does not want to let all the refugees in.
In the pool, she likes long-distance swimming.
"We can't do anything good in our life if we don't have swimming," Sarah said.