Stories from the Ocean with Dr. Sham'aa Abdulla Hameed (Anna)

PUBLISHED December 07, 2022 | updated December 07, 2022 01:41

For someone to make a career transition from Medicine to Marine Studies and then on to the oceans, the quest for real greatness sometimes begins with a journey to figure out who you really are. Read our exclusive interview with Anna to find out more of her journey.

1. Tell us about your career transition and the primary takeaways from them?

Bismillah - It’s been a wild and wonderful journey. Each of these transitions reflect different aspects of my nature, what I am passionate about, and my deep, abiding beliefs. It’s just a matter of bringing to focus and developing particular attributes at different times in my life as the occasion demanded. Of course, I do continue my other interests though less intensely.

For instance, studying for my first degrees in applied sciences, and then graduate medicine, was fuelled by my fascination with science, human physiology and my desire to learn to help others. During this time, and through my school years, the ocean, and from age seven, diving, has been an integral part of my life. 

What I love most about the ocean is its unique healing powers and I became a professional diver to share this wonderful elixir with others. Breathing underwater and becoming one with the ocean is a transformational feeling.I love being the person who provides this experience to others, and lately, being the person who teaches people to transform others’ lives.  

Much the same way, caring for the environment has always been a part of my life. Of course, it wasn’t called that when I was growing up. I was taught to be thankful for this precious world that has been placed under our stewardship and to take responsibility for the impacts we have on it. I Feel that conservation should not be limited to bold, big actions on a public stage. I believe that integrating responsible practices into day to day living, through many small decisions and acts will have a bigger, more sustainable impact on the world. That i is what I live by and what I try to pass on to others. 

These transitions are just curves along the path of my journey of learning and self-discovery. I love exploring the different facets of my potential, pushing past conventional boundaries, without limiting or confining myself to others’ expectations. The way I see it, I’m going from one thing I love to do to another thing that I love to do and enjoying the ride all the way.

2. You are the first PADI Platinum Course Director in the Maldives, and based on your experience, what are the challenges you face when it comes to professional development and training programs?

The main difficulty I have come across is teaching the importance of keeping ethical and moral standards. I think that’s one of the toughest things to impart to students, because unfortunately, there are a lot of bad role models out there.

When a diver coming for further training  displays substandard or unethical practices, I have found that it was usually learned through bad role models or improper guidance, either in prior training or at the workplace. Like in any field, students come to learn with an open and eager mind. So, it is up to the trainer or instructor to teach them the right values and guide their development. When you train professionals, you pass on how and why you make different decisions or judgement calls in order for your students to learn to do the right thing in similar situations. You need to teach them to set standards and values for themselves, to do things to the best of their ability and never compromise their safety or the safety of others.  

Since I cannot control the work conditions my graduates go to, I encourage and support them to have the strength to stay true to their ethical standards and their training – no matter how tempting or difficult the situation. A lot of the accidents and disastrous situations that dive instructors and dive professionals find themselves in could have been prevented by following safety standards and making the right judgement call. 

3. From where do you draw your inspiration in the diving industry and how long does it take to become a great dive instructor?

Motivation for everything I do, especially when faced with challenges comes from my parents and the upbringing they gave. They embodied the values that I try to emulate, live up to and pass on.

I draw inspiration from nature and ultimately, the Creator. All one needs to do is look around and you begin to realise how blessed you are. To exist, to be able to dive, live, work, in such a country as ours.

One lesson from childhood that has stuck well is that the only yardstick to measure yourself against is with yourself. I will try to do better today than how I did yesterday.  Live up to your my own expectations. IYou don’t measure my success or failures against anyone else.  

With my unconventional childhood and unique upbringing (as unique as it could be when shared with eleven siblings and twice that number of cousins and extended family!), the ocean was always a part of life. We grew up around it, it was our playground, our haven, a source of endless enchantment. So segueing from swimming and playing in the ocean scuba diving was very smooth. I was just following the footsteps of my siblings and cousins who had made the same journey. I think I was just 6 or 7 years old when I started diving. And I haven’t looked back since then. 

Becoming a dive professional was a choice. R eturning home from studying and working abroad as a medical doctor, I thought to take a break from the stress. My sanctuary has always been the ocean and I returned to it. Continuing my dive training was just a happy coincidence at the time. But seeing the distinct lack of local female dive professionals at the time and because I wanted to learn more and because I thought I could do it well, I became a dive guide. I enjoyed the training and the tough work, so I decided to work harder and  become the best dive professional I could be. 

That is why I believe that going from a recreational diver to deciding to make diving your profession has to be an active choice. Because you are deciding to serve people, who sometimes might not be at their best. You are deciding to work harder than anyone else on the team, to offer your help and expertise to people who need your assistance. 

There is no minimum or maximum amount of time that you spend to become a great dive instructor. The training components can be completed in one year, depending on the organization and its requirements. But unlike most other vocations, dive training is based on student’s performance and achieving mastery, not time. As with anything, you can complete your training and become competent, but it is your attitude and hard work that will determine whether you become just another dive instructor or a great one, with the power to positively transform lives. 

4. Have you found that your love for the ocean easily translates into your daily activities and daily missions? How do you go about putting this into your daily life? 

My love is not just for the ocean, it is for nature and everything in it. I am thankful for what God has bestowed. It is not a part of daily life so much as it is a way of life.

The way I see it, this environment, this ocean, this Earth, owns us. We don’t own it. We are lucky enough to be inhabiting it for a time. That means we have to give it back intact or better than when we got it. To pass it forward to the next generation who is going to inhabit it after us. We must look after this beautiful environment that we have been blessed with. We don’t break things that we value and love, we protect it. We are guardians of something precious and we are accountable for our actions, to a higher power and to future generations.  

5. As the First Regional Manager of SSI Maldives; what exciting plans do you have lined up over the next few months?

On behalf of the Maldives dive industry, I wish to thank and applaud SSI for having the strength of vision to appoint a Maldivian as Regional Manager for this country. This is a long-awaited moment for our dive industry - for a Maldivian to represent one of the major international dive training agencies operating in the country. I thank SSI for the opportunity and look forward to working within the organisation to better serve our industry.

We have a lot of big projects in the pipeline both for the country and for our members. One of the biggest reasons I was drawn to this organization is their commitment to developing the human resources of the country to meet the needs of the industry. I can say this for sure, a lot of exciting things are going to happen, Inshaa Allah. I can’t wait to get started. 

But first and foremost, we plan to go and say hello to all the members of the SSI family here in Maldives. To see how everyone is doing and how best we can support them during the busy tourist season at hand.

6. In terms of diver training certification, how would you benchmark SSI qualified trainers?

At the highest. SSI professionals have the benefit of a fully digitalised suite of teaching tools which support the instructor and provide greater flexibility to suit different teaching and learning styles. Access to teaching material is easy and without undue restrictions or delays, and the teaching system is designed to provide the right tools for professionals to perform at their best while training or providing service to divers.

If you are a disciplined instructor, the organisation you choose to affiliate with will not matter, as all reputable dive training organisations follow and comply with international standards to ensure the quality and safety of diver training. It is a matter of choosing to partner with an organisation that is responsive, reliable, and most importantly, available close at hand to fully understand struggles and support your work as a dive professional or dive business.

7. As a professional diver, do you think dive tourism has a role in conservation and sustainable tourism?

Yes, definitely. It is our obligation towards this magnificent underwater world from which we earn a living. I believe it is the duty of all divers, professional or otherwise, to lead the movement towards sustainable tourism. We need to conserve and protect the underwater environment and make sure that we do all we can to maintain and sustain it for the future generations to enjoy as we have done. 

8. Early this year, you mentioned about your involvement in registering the Ocean Warriors Institute. Please share with our readers more about it and the current status. 

Alhamdhulillah. Ocean Warriors has taken off spectacularly - way beyond my wildest dreams. Our Dive Tribe has grown exponentially as more ocean enthusiasts join our dive community every day. Our tribes are about inclusivity without bias, and we don’t differentiate on the level of service we provide to locals, work permit holders or tourists. I am ecstatic to see that we have brought a positive change to the quality of service provided to ocean lovers at the capital city. 

We have successfully graduated a number of dive masters and dive instructors and the industry stakeholders have nothing but praise for their performance at the workplace. Our employability rate is at a hundred percent and the employers are once again reaching out to us to fill their teams with our graduates. 

The Apnea Tribe for freedivers has been launched but has been slow to take off. We anticipate this to improve with the start of guided freediving trips on weekends. We will also be kicking off our Fish Tribe in the coming days, with regular guided fishing trips where fishing enthusiasts, young and old can learn more about the marine environment and sustainable fishing practices. 

Our Young Ocean Warriors Leadership program was inaugurated during the school holidays, and we now have a number of Young Warriors leading the way on ocean awareness actions in schools.Our Institute is a safe, disciplined,  learning environment with strong positive role models for youth and this has been greatly appreciated and valued by parents and educators. 

The strides we have made since starting only a few months ago have been tremendous. I am so thankful to God and so very proud of how far Ocean Warriors has come in such a short period of time. Insha' Allah, Ocean Warriors will continue to exceed expectations.

9. What's your advice for aspiring dive instructors?

Becoming a dive instructor will be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you will do. That being said, you should become an instructor only if you love to teach. If you just love to dive, then you can stay a dive guide and still share your passion with others. 

Being a dive instructor is a huge responsibility and it takes patience and determination. You have an obligation and a duty of care towards your students. They, trust in your expertise and ability to guide them through the learning process to become independent divers. Always value the safety of your students.  and make sure you train them to be safe, competent divers who make the right decisions. 

Know that you have a choice, to become a good role-model for your students to emulate, or you can choose to take shortcuts and teach things the easy way, not the safe way. If you don’t have the moral fortitude to do the right thing, don’t become an instructor because you will be putting lives at risk. 

10. What’s left to discover in the oceans?

There is still so much! We haven’t explored the oceans as much as we should have, especially for a marine nation such as the Maldives. We must consider what more can be done for our oceans, such as developing the manpower to safeguard it, empowering regulations to prevent exploitation, and the pursuit of knowledge to utilise this resource in the most sustainable manner. The oceans might be finite but what we should be doing for the oceans must be infinite. 

Anyone who enjoys the ocean in any way, even for a photo of a sunset over the water, must ponder  not just upon the beauty but also on its fragility and vulnerability. So, what's left to explore is what we can do for the oceans, not the other way around. 

11. What do you think of the latest Nekton Mission that was conducted in the Maldives?

I don’t know as much as I would like to about the Nekton Mission. I am just very proud of the fact that Maldivians are a part of the actual mission underwater. Any project that’s undertaken in the Maldives should  involve locals in all stages of the project with due credit given. Though the majority of the Maldives consists of the ocean, we do not have sufficient Maldivians working to develop, protect, or conserve the oceans.

Our national policies should be focused on providing education and training opportunities for Maldivians so they can be employed at all levels in tourism and fisheries. As professionals working in this industry, we are reaping profits from the ocean through tourism and while the ocean is not benefitting from our presence. This is something we need to consider as a country, what more we should be doing for the oceans.. 

12. What is your opinion on the free divers and the depth level they venture into? Is it a very big concern?

Freediving is an exhilarating sport and Maldives has the ideal environment for this.I am not formally trained in freediving, but I too feel the attraction of being free to explore the underwater world without being encumbered by scuba equipment. 

Freediving can be experienced safely by everyone as long as proper training and safety measures are taken. As with any other water activity, I would encourage those who have the enthusiasm for freediving, to get proper training and enjoy the sport responsibly.



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