From lifeguard to international humanitarian of the sea

From a young age, humanitarian Simon Lewis has been driven to make a difference in the community that surrounds him.

His innate drive to improve life for his fellow man and make the seemingly impossible, possible — has found him success in his personal and professional life, all while staying humble.

Simon’s credits his mother, a nurse for inspiring the passion to evolve from a bystander and help others, ‘After seeing imagery of a deceased little boy being carried from the ocean, identified as a three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned fleeing to Europe, I set in motion a plan to drive change in my local community which also impacts the global landscape.’

‘I was also lucky to follow my mothers footsteps and started my journey of humanity from what I had learnt on Nathan campus, I really got to connect with the world and many cultures while I was studying and gaining skills that I would apply directly in the field, who knew semester one, first year media studies would teach me the right way to share my story and the stories of the many rescued on the front cover of media outlets globally.’

Simon joined his local Lifesaving club and was elected to join the board of directors, he was heavily involved in an accessibility project which saw the development of a specialised water wheelchair to assist people with disabilities to access the beach,’I was creating an exciting inclusive opportunity for everyone to indulge in this great Australian pastime and it made me think, well I know how to save people, I know how to rescue people, why am I not at the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation, using my skills?’

Keen to advance on this success with the Australian Life Saving community, Simon applied for a position with the International Surf Lifesaving Association andwas successfully appointed to the association and relocated to the Greek Island of Lesbos known as the western migration route to undertake work supporting operations at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis.

To improve the levels of support and communications between the operating humanitarian organisations on the central Migration route , Simon joined forces with theSOS Méditerranée, a European maritime humanitarian organisation working in the Mediterranean and global, independent movement medical aid,Doctors Without Bordersto improve the onsite coordinating efforts directly impacting on hundreds of refugee lives.

Simon recounted one of his life-changing memories while off the coast of Libya,’ I was off the coast of Libya and there was a woman, a mother, rescued from an unseaworthy boat and wearing a car tyre tube as her lifejacket. She had been so scared and full of fear for hours that she was just completely exhausted when we got to her boat,’

‘Later that night, when I was on watch duties, she came to me and simply looked at me and tried to say “thank you” in English. She then placed her hand on my heart and pointed to the sky, as if to thank God. It was very powerful. Moments like that have remained with me for a long time and make me smile.’

During his time on the central migration route, Simon served as head of mission for a German ngo and ensured he used his training and key skills to protect the lives or not only refugees, but also his team and members from other humanitarian organisations, ‘It’s a hard call when the conditions impact the decision to say no to rescue as the risk vs the outcome is too high.’

In 2017, Simon was nominated and became a finalist for Australian of the Year Victorian Local Hero award for helping to save more than 500 refugees lives in January 2016, ‘I ensured my skills would leave a lasting imprint in Lesbos by training Greek lifeguards and international volunteers in water safety protocols to help with future rescues’.

This year, Simon became the first Australian to become a global semi-finalist for the prestigious Aurora humanitarian prize having rescued 1906 lives over his past missions.

Simon has never looked back on this decision to join the international effort and argues that he found his calling in helping people.

He found solutions to language barriers and operational impacts in this line of work, but never lost the ability to share the gratitude he felt being to help people, even in the toughest of times — fighting against all odds to save lives. ‘Humanity is seen by many but only action-ed by some, we all have the skills to help others with everything we have learnt along the way.’