Thank you Andrew for this great article!
Dive Guide Program in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands is one of the premier dive destinations in the world. The pristine coral reefs and spectacular variety of marine life is rarely equalled anywhere in the Pacific. The warm and crystal clear waters beckon diving enthusiasts from around the globe to immerse themselves, quite literally, into an earthly paradise. Diving tourism has been established for some time in the Solomons, and while it is still quite modest in size, most experts anticipate significant growth in this sector.
In the small town of Munda in the Western Province, where some of the best diving in the Solomons is found, a recent initiative has germinated that involves training six young Solomon Islanders to work as fully qualified Dive Guides, to meet the growing demand for Dive Professionals.
Belinda Botha is the Operations Director of Dive Munda, and also a qualified SSI Instructor Trainer. She has been able to garnish support from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and SIVB (Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau) to provide a training internship to a number of young locals, with the goal to fully qualify them as International Dive Guide Professionals through SSI (Scuba Schools International).
Dive Munda is a multi award winning dive operation, having recently been awarded the 2016 Dive company of the year by Luxury Travel Guide, and was the recipient of the Social Media Award from the South Pacific Tourism Exchange. Belinda was also recognised at the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2016 Business Excellence Awards as runner up entrepreneur of the year.
Belinda is a former Human Resources executive and has worked for many years in the international diving and tourism sector. She identified a need for more young Solomon Islanders to be trained to take a leading role in promoting and facilitating tourism and diving in their country. She also recognised a need for more women to work as Dive Professionals and has a policy that half her trainees be female.
Belinda says "I believe the Solomon Islanders are the country's greatest resource, and I aim to deliver a wholistic level of training, not just as Dive Guide Professionals, but also in tourism, customer service and relations and general life skills".
"This has been such an exiting project, full of cultural sensitivities and plenty of laughter. It's so much fun seeing such happy faces, and it's heartwarming watching people grow and develop on a fast track program. It's just phenomenal"
One of the trainee Dive Guide Trainees, Junior Ziru, 25, says "Training to be a Dive Guide makes me feel proud of myself and my family. I love to dive in the sea and I look forward to completing the course, when I will have my first experience of working as a Dive Guide. I feel lucky to have a good instructor who has taught me many skills."
Another of the trainees, George Kasa, 22 says "I found it was amazing, the first time I experienced swimming under the sea, and learning what is under the sea. Belinda has taught us many things and there is more to go."
Janita Kuanga, 29, looks forward to working in the dive industry. "I look forward to having a professional job. I am really happy and proud to be one of the trainees. I'm looking forward to being with the guests on every dive, and exploring the underwater with them. We have shared a lot of knowledge and gained a lot of skills. We share love and respect for each other and the guests, and take care of one another. I understand how important it is to look after the dive sites very carefully. A huge thanks to Belinda."
Zaza Bedford, 18 says "It has been a great experience to learn new stuff, being underwater and learning about the fish and other life. Learning professionalism in diving, learning about the environment and the importance of teaching the communities about taking care of the reefs. And a big thanks to Belinda!"
Jenorita Lamupio 26 also embraces the Dive Guide program as a great learning experience "Of how important it is to keep the reefs intact. Somehow I have an opportunity to create something myself. The program has given me much knowledge and has helped me break the barriers to talk with the guests."
Joan Sasa, 22 says she is also very proud "I feel fine and proud. Scuba diving is amazing and I love the environment. I look forward to be a good dive guide."
Dive Munda's existing Dive Master is Brian Daga, he has been working as a guide for twenty years. He has observed changes in the young people from his community who have enrolled in the Dive Guide program, "I've noticed how excited they are to see things under the water that they have never seen before. They are meeting people from all around the world. I've noticed how they have learned to be punctual and on time for work, and now they have greater opportunities for work around the Solomons."
Once qualified as Dive Professionals, the guides will be able to apply for a position at any of the dive operators in the Solomons, including Dive Munda's sister company, Solomon Island Dive Expeditions (SIDE) operating the Dive Liveaboard boat MV Taka.
Belinda hopes to be able to expand the Diveguide training program to other provinces of the Solomons as she envisions securing further funding from stakeholders to help meet the growing demand for well trained professionals in the dive tourism market.
Written by Andrew Trahair – Dive professional for SIDE Dive Munda