KOTA KINABALU (Sept 5): With the tagline ‘Imagine the Possibilities’, Diveheart has brought a whole new meaning and possibility to people with disabilities to conquer their fear in scuba diving.
Held for the first time in Kota Kinabalu, Diveheart, a non-profit organisation run by volunteers to help disabled people through scuba opportunities and scuba therapy, held a Diveheart Adaptive programme at Mamutik Island on Sept 4-5.
Diveheart Malaysia Ambassador and founder of Kids Scuba Malaysia, Hj Syed Abd Rahman, said the mission of Diveheart is to build confidence, independence and self-esteem in the lives of children, adults and veterans with disabilities through scuba diving, scuba therapy and related activities.
“The vision is to instil the ‘can do’ spirit in participants, inspiring them to take on challenges that they may not have considered out of fear.
“Using zero gravity and the adventure paradigm, we help participants believe that if they can scuba dive they can do anything,” he said, echoing the tagline ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ to encourage participants to overcome their fears.
Diveheart Borneo coordinator Ernest Teo said seeing the participants being able to ‘stand up’ for the first time underwater made everything worthwhile.
“This helps them to identify themselves as not someone with a disability, but as a diver.
“It is powerful, stories stick and they can share those stories and influence people around them. This will be a ripple effect and inspire others to do other things in life,” he said.
Diveheart was founded by Jim Elliot who is based in Chicago. The two-day program also saw volunteers and doctors come together to train five people with disabilities for the discovery dive programme.
Meanwhile, Borneo Divers manager Tasha Yong said this is the first time they cater for adaptive diving and they were thankful to Diveheart for helping in terms of training their dive crews for the programme.
“With this event it gives us awareness and opens up more knowledge on how to provide better facilities for people of different abilities. We have been trying to be ahead of everyone in terms of facilities in Sabah and will continue to strive to be better in the future,” she said.
Also present were Rehabilitation Medical Specialists from Universiti Malaya, Prof Dr Nazira Hasnan and Dr Thor Ju An from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) regional manager and course instructor Mark Hedger, along with over 40 volunteers from all walks of life including medical students, officials and others.
Meanwhile, Iziani Hayati Abbas, who has been wheelchair bound for her whole life never thought that she would one day have the opportunity to try out scuba diving.
The 39-year-old charity worker was diagnosed with spina bifida at birth, was part of the five-people group that got the chance to be part of Diveheart Adaptive programme.
“Thanks to Diveheart and all the volunteers, we were given the opportunity to learn how to scuba dive. After going through the first day course in a swimming pool, we were taken to open waters to test out our new learned skill,” said the youngest of five siblings.
Iziani said that the whole experience was not only educational and memorable, but more emotional.
When she was in the water, she felt like she was just like other people without any disability.
“I did not expect to be able to do this, because when I first tried to get into the sea on the first day (Monday, Sept 4), I got scared and had to be brought back to the shore.
“But today (Sept 5), I made it about three metres down and saw some fish. It is beautiful and a whole new world opened up for me when I was diving,” she said.
For Lidwina Isidore Andilah, who became paralysed waist down after injuring her spine following a fall when she was five, the thought of scuba diving was always on her mind.
“I have only kept this intention (diving) at the back of my mind because I did not know who to approach and am not sure if there is anyone who can cater to my condition for the activity,” said the 29-year-old who has always been into extreme sports, including paragliding and rafting despite her condition.
She said having grown up with her able-bodied friends, she has always seen them going for dives and swims, and that is one reason why she keeps pushing herself to try new things and just get out of her comfort zone.
“For others like me out there, don’t be afraid to try new things because we can do what others can do too. We just need more help getting there,” said Lidwina,
Another participant, Nurizzati Zahidah Hasanudin, 26, was quick to change her social media profile picture after her dive at the Mamutik Island on the first day of the program.
“I am so happy and excited. I want to do this again and I know that with the right trainers, guidance and support, we too can do much more than just sitting on our wheelchairs,” she said, adding that about five to six volunteers were needed to help them out to sea, when diving and back up to the shore.