‘I don’t want this to happen to anyone else’ - Mother of teenager who drowned at Thorpe marshes calls for better water safety awareness

Scene of double drowning at St Andrew's Broad, Thorpe Marshes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Scene of double drowning at St Andrew's Broad, Thorpe Marshes. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2015

The mum of a teenage girl who drowned while trying to rescue her cousin has called for better awareness of the perils of water before more lives are lost.

Stella Kambi. Picture: Angele AketoStella Kambi. Picture: Angele Aketo

Stella Kambi, 17, died at Thorpe Marshes in 2015 after she dived in to save her 14-year-old cousin Bonheur Musungay, who had got into trouble while swimming. He did not survive.

Her mother Angele Kasampilo has today backed our Summer of Swimming campaign which, as the weather turns warmer, hopes to encourage more people to learn how to swim and to raise awareness of the dangers of water.

Mrs Kasampilo, who lives in Norwich, urged parents to be aware of the risks and to make sure their children were confident swimmers.

“Water is so dangerous and it is everywhere around this country,” she said. “It can kill children. Parents need to be able to swim and our children need to be able to.”

Claudine Kambi, Stella's sister, and her mother Angele Kasampilo and father Daniel Aketo.
 Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Claudine Kambi, Stella's sister, and her mother Angele Kasampilo and father Daniel Aketo. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

She said it was often only after tragedies that risks were fully appreciated.

“I had no idea the water was as deep as it was - I just didn’t think,” she said. “We saw people swimming one end to the other as exercise, so we didn’t appreciate how deep or dangerous it was until they were explaining to us.”

Though emergency services and charities work tirelessly to promote safety campaigns, she said it was all too easy, with the sun shining, to shrug off the warnings.

“People watch the news and they see what’s happened, and they know it’s sad - but they have no idea what it’s really like.

Bonheur Musungay, pictured three days before he died at Thorpe Marshes in August 2015Bonheur Musungay, pictured three days before he died at Thorpe Marshes in August 2015

“They don’t know Stella, they don’t know us - it’s easy to think that ‘it won’t happen to me’.

“People don’t appreciate the risks until it is too late - I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

While a near-drowning incident put Mrs Kasampilo off swimming when she was young, Stella was a strong swimmer who loved being by the water.

“She always used to ask me to take her swimming, she loved it. She’d be so excited,” she said.

“But on that day, things happened so quickly. Bonheur was in trouble and she acted like a mother, rushing in to help him. But when someone is drowning they grab onto you hard, and it pulled them down.”

‘No swimming’ signs put up by the waterside had been vandalised and torn down days before the pair died.

Mrs Kasampilo has previously criticised the lack of signage, and said more protection should be in place around open water.

“We saw no signs - if someone knew the signs were gone, they should have been there, or they should have put something straight back up.

“If you walk through Norwich on a Saturday night, there’s lots of security and an SOS bus for drunk people.

“But there’s not the same around water, even during summer - what about our kids?”

August will mark two years since the pair died, and the start of a long journey for the family to rebuild their lives.

Stella’s siblings are beginning to thrive at school once again, and have even started to regain their confidence around the water, while the family has moved house in a bid to have a fresh start.

“I can’t explain how hard it has been,” Mrs Kasampilo said. “No-one talked, we were always quiet.

“We were scared all the time. I can’t explain how that felt. My children hated the house, they hated being there. Moving has helped, but living in Norwich with the memories is very difficult.

“I walk past the river and am reminded. I hate it.

“We talk about Stella and Bonheur every day - everything they did and the stories.”

She said her daughter had a “good heart”.

“She was someone you could meet one day and feel like you’d known her forever. If someone was being bullied, or was having a hard time, she would make them her friend.”

As part of our Summer of Swimming campaign, Riverside Leisure Centre has kindly agreed to give 40 schoolchildren free lessons for five weeks.

The youngsters, ranging from year two to years five and six, will enjoy sessions with instructors to improve their confidence in the water.

But, based in the NR4 area of Norwich, one school will be unable to get its students from the school to Riverside each week.

And we hope you can help. We are looking for a Norwich-based transport firm which would be happy to lend a hand and take the youngsters from A to B.

You would be helping the children on their swimming journey, and we would be happy to feature your story.

• For more information, please email or call 01603 772313.

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