Training the new dive guides of Komodo

Wicked Diving in Indonesia are working with local communities to empower a long-term commitment to responsible dive tourism.

LOGO_Inspiring Stories from Destinations_2012-page-001The Komodo National Park area of Indonesia is one of the jewels in the nation’s crown. The Komodo dragons have ensured international recognition and a flow of tourists which is increasing year on year. The other major draw card for this area is the diving – touted by many to be some of the best in the world. There are a plethora of dive organisations who aim to introduce divers to the wonders of the Komodo’s underwater world and the people of Labaun Bajo are prospering as the town thrives and expands.

However, the people from Komodo themselves are some of the last to benefit from their natural inheritance. Ensconced on an island, battered by winds and scorched by sun, life is tough for the 1500 or so residents of Komodo village. This wonderful natural environment turns out to be the third poorest province in Indonesia. As a result, education and job opportunities for the young men and women growing up on the island are inadequate. The main profession is fishing which is a traditional vocation; however it is becoming less and less viable as all of our oceans and marine life suffer the effects of overfishing. It’s not unlikely that within a few decades artisanal fishermen will be unable to support their families, leading to a downward spiral of unemployment and poverty. The people of this area should be able to benefit and prosper from the natural resources and jobs created by an influx of tourists to the area.

mantaTo remedy this, Komodo has to be given back to the people, and what better way than to train the young people of the island to become dive guides. This is something that Wicked Diving set out to resolve by partnering with local organisation Komodo KITA. Based out of Labuan Bajo in Flores, Wicked Diving had already worked closely with Komodo KITA when they embarked on an SSI Instructor training programme to train 6 local dive guides from Labuan Bajo to Instructor level. A Dive Guide course can typically be provided to local guides on an internship basis, meaning the costs are absorbed and employment is given upon successful completion of the course. However the costs involved in an Instructor course can be very prohibitive to local dive guides, making it near impossible for them to progress within the industry. With full support of Komodo KITA and a number of external sponsors, Wicked Diving hosted the first ever SSI Instructor course in Labuan Bajo. The course was offered on a free of charge basis to 6 candidates. Wicked Diving’s contribution to this was firstly to donate their classroom and teaching facilities to the course. In addition, all diving training was completed onboard Wicked Diving’s boats, equipment was provided and full support, coaching and advice was given by our in-house instructors. At the end of the course, we were all delighted that 5 candidates went on to sit their Instructor Exam and became fully fledged SSI Open Water Instructors.

Throughout this process, Wicked Diving immediately recognised the merits of working with Komodo KITA and accepted an offer to come onboard and partner up to create opportunity for the young people of Komodo village. The programme began with the task of initial dive training, with was provided by the new SSI Instructors. 20 young men from the island were trained in 3 different diving courses; Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, and Stress & Rescue Diver. This then set the candidates in a position to start considering a Dive Guide certification; however there was now the question of experience. It is possible for divers to become reach a ‘professional’ level with the minimal amount of experience, but does this make for a good guide?

A good dive guide needs experience in diving, the more dives the better, and a rounded understanding of what the ‘real-life’ role of a guide is like, not to mention language skills, a thorough understanding of dive safety and a likeable personality. This is where Wicked Diving was able to step in and share its skills and experience. Throughout June, July and August, the dive centre welcomed 5 interns from Komodo island, each of them for a 4 week period. During this time the Komodo interns were involved in all aspects of day-to-day life in our busy centre.

The dive centre offers a variety of trips to our guests. The interns in this programme joined our live-aboard trips, heading out into the National Park for 6 days and 6 nights on board our boats. They joined our day trips, both diving and snorkelling and were coached throughout the process. Their dive skills improved noticeably as their number of dives grew. They were taught about the importance of safety in diving and also respect for the marine environment. To have such early exposure to considered and respectful diving practices is incredibly important. It is easy to pick up bad habits when learning any skill, we have been able to not only ‘nip bad habits in the bud’ so to speak, but also explain to them the reasons why we do this. This is THEIR Komodo. Divers come here to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and they are able to be the new ambassadors for this. To understand the worth and fragility of the reef is invaluable.

Fauzi and Yadi clean the beach in the Komodo National ParkInterns were given important ‘face-time’ with our guests and always introduced as staff members. This was an integral part of the programme as it allowed them to develop the confidence of dealing with people from all over the world, something which can be very daunting at times. Diving is a very social industry and the interns were encouraged to spend as much time with guests as possible. This helped to convey Wicked Diving’s philosophy that a Dive Guide is much more than someone who leads you on a dive. It was also a great place for them to practice their conversational English. Towards the end of their internship, some of them even had the confidence to stand up in front of groups and give dive briefings with the assistance of our instructors.

Obviously, it doesn’t just end with the diving. We were able to teach the interns organisational skills within the centre, equipment care, handling and safe use and also give them exposure to sales. This is an industry where a smile can mean more than the words that were spoken, and in typical Indonesia style, they had this in abundance!

From a logistical stand point, we had to consider options for lodgings, as Labuan Bajo, where Wicked Diving is based, is not their home town. Wicked Diving provided food and board to every intern for the duration of their stay.

Each intern has and continues to work hard for us, something which has already been recognised by our guests and publicly through reviews on the internet. Based on this enthusiasm and tenacity, Wicked Diving decided that we would fulfil the complete Dive Guide course with the two most promising individuals from the programme. We have trained them to a level where they can successfully work for us as snorkel guides and both have already been given paid work in this area. We now enter a period of learning and they will be busily studying not only for their SSI Dive Guide certification, but also undertaking English classes. Wicked Diving and Komodo KITA will combine and fully fund their entire Dive Guide certification, provide access to English classes and also a full set of dive gear for each of the successful candidates. On completion of their training, the two new Dive Guides will be given a one year contract with Wicked Diving, starting from March 2013.

Wicked Diving, and its experienced staff members, are in the lucky position to be the experts in the diving industry. Without advice and support from seasoned dive professionals in a well-established business, candidates wouldn’t be able to receive adequate training the skills and guidance to ensure continued employability within the industry. In addition, by providing training in-line with the businesses core principals; safety, ethical practice and a fun and memorable guest experience, this will set the new Dive Guides apart from their peers. They will become actively involved in conserving their new home and natural inheritance.

Wicked Diving wholeheartedly believe that local people, native to an area, should have the means and skills to fully reap the financial successes of this area. All of our instructors are looking forward to working with our 2 chosen candidates to increase their employability and enhance the quality of their lives and that of their families. The hope is that programmes such as this will inspire more of the people who reside in Komodo village to become deeply involved in this programme and that these candidates will become role models to their peers. They will set a fine example of what can be achieved through motivation and training.

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