(CNN) — Zoona Naseem led nine children, some as young as eight years old, out towards the open waters of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, rattling off a list of reminders: switch to regulators, inflate buoyancy control devices, adjust the masks.
“If you have any problems with your ears, we are not going to go down,” she called out before the group took the plunge. “Going deep is not the most important thing. The most important thing is to enjoy the dive.”
Naseem certifies children as young as eight years old to scuba dive.
“I own a dive center here to educate people to love the ocean,” she explained. “If somebody doesn’t love the reef, they won’t think twice about throwing plastic into the ocean. But if they love the reef, they will make every effort not to throw it in.”
“When I went for my instructor course, there were no females at the time. That was about 26 years back,” she said. “I chose this (career) because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to prove that girls can do many things.”
Naseem teaches up to two dozen students to scuba dive at any given time.
Naseem went on to teach scuba diving in resorts across the country. In 2016, however, she decided to set up her own establishment on the tiny island of Villingili — partly to spend more time with her own children, but also in the hopes of inspiring others Maldivians to follow in her footsteps.
“If I worked in a resort, I would probably earn more money and I would probably live an easier life,” Naseem said. “But I chose to start something here to open the door to (children).”
Whether through scuba diving or snorkeling, Naseem believes that all children should learn to be comfortable in the water.
In addition to offering dive lessons in Villingili, Naseem says she has petitioned the Maldivian government to build a marine academy, offering the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the underwater world. She also hopes to open a mobile diving school, traveling the country to teach as many children as possible to dive.
“In the Maldives, we are 99% water and just 1% land,” she said. “So I believe the ocean should be the kids’ playground.”