The promise of a brighter future
Divers, like all other ocean users, have a role to play in protecting the underwater environment we love to spend time in. We help grease the wheels and cogs of the big dive tourism machine; and hopefully that machine is being run responsibly in ways that benefit not only future travellers but local communities as well.
I often think about all the staff that work in compressor rooms or on the boats at the dive resorts and wonder how many of them, if any, are divers, and if diving was perhaps their reason for working there. When Colleen Bernard from Amanzi Instructor Development told me about Bitonga Divers and that she had trained the first Mozambican female PADI instructor, Kudzi Guicome, it seemed I had my answer.
“My name is Kudzi. I’m from Mozambique, born in Inhambane, on an island called Guidwane. I’m part of a very big family… 19 brothers and sisters, mommy, dad and stepmother. We have fun because we are a united family.
“There are no jobs where I come from. All we do is go to the sea, catch crabs and fish in the daytime. At night we catch prawns. It all depends on tides… sometimes we pack up in the middle of the night and go to sea. We use a net that has poles on each side so it needs two people. We walk along the shore while carrying big baskets for the prawns on our heads. We must use our heads because we hold the net with two hands.
“We dry the prawns – in five days we have three containers (60 litres) of prawns. We take the prawns to a big market in town and sell them and that’s how we make a living. My father also has coconut trees and we can sell coconuts, coconut beer and coconut biscuits door-to-door. But, don’t forget cassava! We all grow and love cassava at home. It’s like rice but you don’t cook it, it’s ready as it is. You can eat it with fish, even tea. It goes with everything!
“So this is where and how I grew up. I really enjoyed every second of it, but I wanted to do something different. I decided to go places and look for a job.
“That’s how I ended up in Tofo Beach, where I live now. The very first day I got here I went to the beach and there were all these people dressed in skin suits (that’s what I used to call wetsuits) pushing boats into the waves, and going out to sea! I didn’t know what they were doing, but to me it looked awesome. And in my heart I knew I wanted to do the same.
“But it was too early for that. I had no idea what to do to be able to wear a wetsuit and go out on a boat, but it was my dream, my mission. I got a job as a waitress. It was nice. I could support my family. But I wasn’t really satisfied. Something was missing, something I really wanted to do.
“Then, after five years as a waitress, Bitonga Divers was created, so there was the opportunity.
It wasn’t as easy as you might think. It was difficult because nobody believed I could do it. But I never gave up. I just kept trying and trying. So they said to me, ‘We’ll let you try and see how it goes.’
“It took me a year to get my Divemaster certification. Bitonga Divers paid for all my courses, but I had to work every day at the dive shop. Luckily Bitonga Divers paid us a minimum wage.
“Two things kept me there: I believed I could do it, and there is nothing in the world that makes you feel calmer, or more carefree than being underwater.
“At the start it was all about wearing the ‘skin suit!’ But now, it’s different. I have learnt a lot. New skills, guiding and leading dives (these are my favourites) and I can conduct some of the PADI courses independently. I am also meeting new people everyday.
“I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this; intellectual, inspiring, positive, kind and encouraging people surround me. Goodbyes often involve blessings, hugs, and promised e-mails and hopes of seeing each other again. Without the connections we make in life we would be truly mortal and less significant.
“I get this a lot; stranger turned friend, then turned family. I put my hand over my heart, close my eyes, and look up to the sky and say thank you.
“I am a role model for other Mozambican women who look at me and say, “Wow, what is she? What is she doing? That’s so cool, I’d like to be like her. I want to teach my brother and sister Mozambicans how to dive. I keep thinking what it would be like to share the magnificent species we have in our ocean. I would love to have more Mozambicans involved in the diving industry. That way we’ll help each other to save our sea.
“Nothing describes me more than the word grateful. Grateful for inspiration, for discovering new relatives and family members. For hugs that span the universe, for Skype, Facebook, g-mail, maps, self-awareness and discovering adventures.
“Peace, love and smiles of gratitude always.”
Bitonga Divers was set up in 2006 in partnership with Ocean Revolution. Their mission is to provide professional Scuba training for rural Mozambicans, enabling them to get jobs in the dive tourism industry. To date they have been successful with eight instructors and eleven divemasters.
Their work reaches a lot further than the diving industry; they teach courses (free of charge) for the Inhambane Fire and Police Departments, they have trained 15 Marine Biology and Coastal Management Masters students at the Universidad Eduardo Moldane. Some of these students ended up as marine biology teachers, some as managers in the Fisheries Department and some are working for marine conservation NGOs. They conduct talks and workshops in remote coastal fishing villages where there are no schools, or access to newspapers and television, sharing information about life in the sea and its importance ecologically and economically for their country.
Carlos Macuacua, executive director of Bitonga and Mozambique’s first PADI instructor, had this to say in a letter to Colleen:
“We have short interviews with our instructors and also with the group that received PADI scholarships two years ago on our website, www.bitongadivers.org, so that you can see what this programme has meant to them. For almost every one of them this has been the chance to open their first bank accounts, start families and build homes for these families. Economic gains aside, what means the most, are what we have accomplished together with organisations like PADI, Kewe Sales and Amanzi. The satisfaction of achieving what many thought was impossible and the new found pride of being role models for our entire country.
“Thanks for making this possible both financially and through motivation and inspiration. Without your help this would have been a much longer road.”
Bitonga Divers Carlos Macuacua, +258 84 244 4952, +258 82 897 7640, [email protected]
Tim Dykman, +258 84 890 0847, +01 631 276 6338, [email protected]
Amanzi Instructor Development, www.scubadivinginstructors.co.za
Source: The Dive Site