By Maya Shoup, PADI Instructor
What an experience to cherish!
My travels to the north shore of Haiti with Reef Check to teach 15 university students the PADI Open Water Diver course are the reasons I became a PADI instructor. Not only to make a difference in an individual’s life, but to also raise awareness about our ocean and its conservation….to make a change!
Haiti’s coral reefs and fish populations have been on a dramatic decline over the years due to overfishing. Local fishermen can no longer find big fish to catch so are now targeting smaller fish like parrotfish, snappers, grunts and more. These fish are all that’s left due to overfishing and the lack of fishing regulations and marine protected areas- the reefs of Haiti are under threat of extinction. As Reef Check builds their EcoDiver teams in Haiti, they are also building awareness about the importance of restoring, replenishing and protecting what little coral and fish they have left.
With over 300 applicants wishing to become EcoDivers in Cape Haitien, Reef Check’s team had some work to do to pick the most suitable 15 candidates who could learn to swim, snorkel and ultimately have a chance of passing their PADI Open Water course. Before I arrived in Haiti to teach their SCUBA course, these 15 students had successfully learned how to swim and snorkel. As their skills and confidence increased, they were ready for the world of SCUBA. The opportunity to explore the underwater world by SCUBA in Haiti is very uncommon. It was explained to me as “an opportunity of a lifetime,” according to the students.
When I arrived, I was filled with excitement to meet my hard working students. Knowing how much they worked to get to this point in their course was a great feeling for any SCUBA instructor. Knowing the passion that these students held for becoming EcoDivers and helping conserve their oceans made our English-Creole-French language barrier a little less of a challenge for me (that and the help of Reef Check’s staff who worked as amazing translators).
As we began pool sessions with the first group, I was shocked at their confidence level with equipment, skills, and sinus clearing. They had already watched the PADI training videos and had been reading the Open Water Manual so were breezing right through the skills. Equipment was getting assembled properly, mask and regulators were getting cleared, ears were equalizing. At that moment I thought to myself, “they have the skills- but, do they really know the reasoning behind learning the skills…so time for the knowledge review and quiz!” We had our after pool dive briefing and this is where the language barrier got interesting, not only was I teaching the students SCUBA but now the students were also teaching me Creole.