In a quiet corner of a luxury resort in the Maldives you’ll find an PADI Five Star IDC centre quite unlike any other.
Teaching Maldivians to scuba dive might seem to some like selling coals to Newcastle. Wherever you stand in the Maldives, you’re always barely a stone’s throw from the ocean, and many Maldivians can swim before they can walk. Diving is in the country’s DNA.
It could come as a surprise to some then, that until the mid-2000s, there were only a handful of places offering PADI Instructor Development Courses in the country, with many aspiring instructors actually having to travel to Thailand to complete their certifications.
Founding an Institution
Luckily, this didn’t go unnoticed by Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed, the Maldives’ first and only PADI Course Director and in 2006, he decided to do something about it. Working at the time as the operations manager of Holiday Island Resort & Spa, part of the Villa conglomerate, Sendi approached the company chairman – the Hon. Qasim Ibrahim – and shared his concerns about the lack of educational opportunities for local dive and water sport professionals.
The conversation would not only change his own life, but would ultimately change the face of diving education in the Maldives. Convinced by the lack of Maldivian educational facilities for divers, Mr Ibrahim asked Sendi to oversee the development of an institution that would change all that. Like Sendi, he wanted to provide a space for Maldivians to become qualified leaders in the diving field. And with that, The Villa Institute of Water Sports and Hospitality was born the same year.
A Place in the Sun
Purpose-built in a quiet corner of Sun Island Resort & Spa (another Villa Hotel), the institute quickly became a hub for young dive and water sports enthusiasts hoping to make a career in the industry. With spacious student and teacher accommodation and modern classrooms overlooking a lagoon that welcomes whale sharks and manta rays to its outer reef, the establishment is enough to make any Course Director drool.
But what makes the institute really special is what it aims to achieve. Its objective? To equip a new generation of certified PADI Dive Masters and Instructors with the skills needed to become not only leaders in the field of recreational diving tourism but also trailblazers in ecological advocacy.
Expansion and Diversification
Lofty goals to say the least, but within a few short years it has managed to do just that. After a restructuring to become the founding faculty of Villa College, (now the Maldives’ leading private education provider offering courses in everything from marketing to law) and an expansion to include facilities in the capital, the reigns were handed over to Dr. Sham’aa ‘Anna’ Hameed. Under her leadership and the close involvement of Sendi, the institute is well on track to realise its vision.
Not only does the faculty run multiple PADI Instructor Development Courses throughout the year, it now offers Certificate Three, foundation and even degree courses in marine studies that offer PADI electives as course credit.
These courses provide students with the tools to become innovators in the field of marine studies. As a result, graduating students go on to enter the Maldivian workforce in a number of roles: as dive and water sports instructors of course, but also as researchers, marine biologists, wildlife rangers, even government environmental officials and legislators.
What started as an initiative of affirmative action to provide quality education and training for locals has now developed into an educational model that is forward thinking on an international level. As such, they are arming a legion of self-titled ‘Ocean Warriors’ with the skills to be the next generation of environmental guardians and leaders in the Maldivian diving industry.
About the author: Adele Verdier-Ali is a freelance travel writer and content marketer who has been living in the Maldives for over six years. She’s a certified PADI rescue diver and when she’s not underwater, she writes about Maldivian culture and tourism. You can read more of her thoughts over on www.littlebirdjournal.com