Dive Op­er­a­tor, Belinda Botha and Glacier Guide, Lucy Pod­lucky

Adventure - - #209 -

South African born Belinda Botha left be­hind her life as an in­dus­trial psy­chol­o­gist in North Amer­ica to be­come a full time scuba in­struc­tor and set off to travel the world. She is now the op­er­a­tional di­rec­tor and trainer of Dive Munda in the Solomon Is­lands where she runs the award-win­ning busi­ness.

Dive Munda has won a plethora of awards, most re­cently win­ning the 2017 Tourism Busi­ness of the Year Award pre­sented by the Solomon Is­lands Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try - Busi­ness Ex­cel­lence Awards. They were also re­cently awarded, for the third year in a row, the Div­ing Com­pany of the Year Award rec­og­nizng ex­cel­lence in ser­vice, em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion, mar­ket­ing and brand­ing, lo­cal knowl­edge and cul­tural un­der­stand­ing and the 2016 and 2018 South Pa­cific Tourism Ex­change So­cial Me­dia Award. In ad­di­tion, Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Belinda Botha was re­cently awarded the Run­ner Up Award for 2016 En­tre­pre­neur of the Year. Belinda Botha also be­came one of a hand­ful of fe­males (and first Ex­pat woman) to serve on the Solomon Is­lands Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try Board, rep­re­sent­ing for the first time the Tourism sec­tor and outer prov­inces. We caught up with the lady at the helm, Belinda Botha…

What were some of the chal­lenges you have faced be­ing a fe­male in the dive in­dus­try?

His­tor­i­cally the Solomon Is­lands is still largely a com­plex cul­ture when it comes to “women’s rights” and the high rate of gen­der-based vi­o­lence and tra­di­tional Kas­tom roles along­side su­per re­li­gious views can make run­ning a tourism busi­ness with fe­male dive guides bit chal­leng­ing. It is chang­ing, but slowly, es­pe­cially in the outer is­lands and com­mu­ni­ties like Munda. I ex­pe­ri­enced dis­re­spect, vi­o­lence and gen­eral com­ments that I am in­fe­rior to men. I have had a few very close calls that, let me just say I would not be telling my dad about them! But these in­ci­dents were few and far in be­tween and be­ing born in South Africa made me re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate and fos­ter dif­fer­ent be­liefs, cul­tures and tra­di­tions. I fought for recog­ni­tion and equal­ity be­cause there was no other way, and some­body had to do it. These things do not change overnight, and it will never change if some­body does not speak up and fight for change. I think work­ing with chiefs and com­mu­nity el­ders and lead­ers and painstak­ingly build­ing re­la­tion­ships, earn­ing trust and re­spect, com­mu­ni­cat­ing fre­quently and frankly, speak­ing the lo­cal lan­guage, be­ing trans­par­ent, tak­ing the time for per­sonal vis­its, be­ing open and friendly, firm but fair helped a bit! The Solomon Is­lan­ders are some of the most amaz­ing peo­ple I have ever met! Our lo­cal fe­males are rock­ing the dive in­struc­tor role and are in gen­eral more hard work­ing, more pa­tient and less ab­sent due to big nights out! A win­ning com­bi­na­tion!

You have had re­cent suc­cess in your busi­ness most re­cently win­ning the 2017 Tourism Busi­ness of the year award. What other high­lights or “vic­to­ries” have you en­joyed?

– I love the way you put this, but it is re­ally not just be­cause of me, but a col­lec­tive ef­fort of many, it is more so about pick­ing up what is needed in com­mu­ni­ties, vil­lages, the tourism prod­uct of­fer­ing and chan­nelling fe­ro­cious en­ergy

to­wards achiev­ing those goals and out­comes. I am merely spear­head­ing these ini­tia­tives and then driv­ing hard (some­times to great an­noy­ance of those on the re­ceiv­ing end!) to get these goals ac­com­plished.

Other projects we are most proud of is the re­cent part­ner­ship with NZ VSA – Solomon Is­lands. We are cur­rently re­cruit­ing for a Yoga Teacher Trainer and Well-be­ing Vol­un­teer that will work with us and our fe­males and youth and our vil­lages to cre­ate more and dif­fer­ent ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for all in Munda. Also en­hanc­ing and grow­ing our tourism prod­uct of­fer­ing in Munda with the di­rect Bris­bane to Munda flights com­ing in a cou­ple of months. Su­per ex­cit­ing!

What was your mo­ti­va­tion for im­ple­ment­ing a 60% fe­male em­ploy­ment tar­get and how does that ef­fect per­for­mance/con­fi­dence/etc?

I re­al­ized very early on that it is all about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and ap­ply­ing prior learn­ings and skills to not only help pre­serve and pro­tect one of the last wild fron­tiers left on planet ocean, but also to iden­tify core is­sues in a de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity and help­ing ad­dress them (more on this be­low). With­out get­ting in to too much bor­ing per­sonal de­tail here, but apart from my div­ing ac­co­lades, I am also an In­dus­trial Psy­chol­o­gist and came from a lu­cra­tive ex­ec­u­tive level ca­reer in Hu­man Re­sources Man­age­ment in cor­po­rate North Amer­ica. I be­came bored and jaded, wanted to do more, for our en­vi­ron­ment and for woman, and an amaz­ing 10-year jour­ney across a few con­ti­nents fol­lowed as I was search­ing for the place that is ready for this en­ergy. The Solomon Is­lands found me. And here I am still af­ter nearly 5 years!

I had two main goals when I re­launched Dive Munda in 2016 af­ter com­ing off a few years set­ting up our dive live­aboard for our sis­ter com­pany, SIDE MV Taka from Ho­niara.

One, I wanted to cre­ate jobs for youth in the Munda com­mu­nity, this in­cluded train­ing 12 lo­cal dive pro­fes­sion­als, at least half of them were woman. In ad­di­tion, I wanted to en­sure we break bar­ri­ers in com­mu­ni­ties and in­dus­tries his­tor­i­cally known as male dom­i­nated. Not only did we train 2 fe­male As­sis­tant In­struc­tors, 4 Dive­mas­ters but also the first 2 fe­male Dive In­struc­tors in the his­tory of this coun­try! In­ter­est­ingly, this has done amaz­ing things in em­pow­er­ing fe­males in the com­mu­ni­ties and in­dus­try in the Solomon Is­lands. I get ap­proached by young girls ev­ery­where I go want­ing to know if they can also learn how to dive and earn an in­come or open up a dive shop. This fre­quently still brings me to tears. How em­pow­er­ing! In­ter­est­ingly, it is not just our fe­males ben­e­fit­ting from this evo­lu­tion, but our male em­ploy­ees, part­ners, hus­bands, chiefs, male youths also ex­pe­ri­ence and be­come part of the change. They all see first-hand the changes and treat woman dif­fer­ently, thereby break­ing an an­cient cul­ture of sub­mis­sion and vi­o­lence. We have an equal op­por­tu­nity pol­icy at Dive Munda, and we are not afraid to act when ha­rass­ment, dis­re­spect or vi­o­lence oc­curs.

Two, I wanted to make sure that we work fe­ro­ciously to­wards pro­tect­ing and pre­serv­ing not only our amaz­ing nat­u­ral re­sources (above and be­low the wa­ter) but also our tra­di­tional and Kas­tom cul­tures. This is a work in progress and a per­sonal pas­sion. I am very proud of col­lab­o­ra­tions formed with stakeholders, gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try whereby we bring home the con­cept that each and ev­ery re­spon­si­ble trav­eller (div­ing or oth­er­wise) vis­it­ing the Solomon Is­lands, gives strength to the the­ory of sus­tain­able eco-tourism. This is the fu­ture of the coun­try. This is so im­por­tant con­sid­er­ing our other main eco­nomic driv­ers; fish­ing, min­ing and log­ging can never be long term sus­tain­able. We need to learn for the mis­takes of our neigh­bours and be­cause the tourism sec­tor in the Solomons is in its “in­fancy” we can still make a dif­fer­ence. And we should all try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.