Community and belonging matter. Deeply. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s this.
For all divers, being able to connect with others in their communities and with the ocean brings added benefits. For diverse divers, this is especially true. By diving into the PADI universe, these divers have found meaning and purpose in what they do and who they do it with.
Leading with Positivity
Nitcharee Peneakchanasak, a double-amputee diver from Thailand, enjoys the freedom that being underwater affords her.
When Nitcharee Peneakchanasak, 26, was 14 years old, she lost both her legs in an accident. Still, that hasn’t stopped her from living an active and positive lifestyle that includes scuba diving and from being a force for change for her community. “Thai people know me as ‘Thun’ – A Positive Thinking Girl,” Peneakchanasak said.
Learning to dive was her dream, and she accomplished this in 2016 while studying for her bachelor’s degree. She said, “When I tried scuba diving for the first time, I felt like my body was not a barrier to my life underwater. I can swim to see the beauty anywhere without a wheelchair or prosthetic legs. It inspired me… [and] taught me … that everything is possible if you can believe in yourself.”
Now, she explores the ocean as a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. Additionally, above the surface, as a communicator and motivational speaker, she inspires others with disabilities in her home country of Thailand to live positive lives as well. Being a PADI diver allowed her to see the beauty of nature in a new way and to believe in herself more. Therefore, these are the lessons and joys she shares with her community.
Jessy Faya Fralinda, a Muslim woman diver in Indonesia, started her own dive club.
Jessy Faya Fralinda was born in Bali, an island surrounded by beaches and water. She explored the shoreline as a kid, and, in 2012, she took her first peek underwater. “Submerged in the deep blue ocean, [I was] fascinated by the new sights that I’d never seen before,” she said. “I promised myself that I [would] be a certified diver one fine day.”
Almost 7 years later, she moved to Lombok to work in the aviation industry. Here, she earned her PADI Open Water Diver Certification and the nickname “The Flying Mermaid.” Her love for the sport grew, and she built her own local dive community – the Lombok Airport Dive Club (LADC). The club encourages Lombok Airport employees to try scuba diving. “And, proudly, I can say that LADC has brought out almost 50 new certified divers in just one year. In no time, we took the club to the next level … with … dive against debris, beach cleaning, some projects in the Coral Garden” and more, she added.
Moreover, she rallies those around her towards her beloved sport in other capacities too: as part of the Indonesia Diver Community (a government-protected community group) and as one of the first-ever Girls That Scuba Ambassadors from Indonesia. She hopes to become a PADI Rescue Diver and to encourage more women to try scuba diving.
Connecting and Communicating
Stephanie Zornoza, a deaf PADI Advanced Open Water Diver from the U.S., signs “water” in American Sign Language underwater. Aqua Hands
Stephanie Zoronza understands the importance of connecting and communicating. She founded The ASL Shop to help others learn American Sign Language. As a deaf PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, she finds being able to communicate with other divers and instructors underwater “so freeing” and “super fun.” Freed of communication barriers that she sometimes experiences above the surface, she knows “there’s nothing more exciting than being able to make conversations underwater!”
Zornoza also knows that being a diver is an incredible way to connect with nature. She finds herself constantly in awe of the beauty around her and tiny details that are so easy to miss on land – like how the light dances off coral or how fish move through the water. “It’s amazing how much we take for granted when we’re living on land,” she said.
Diving motivates her to share about the underwater world and to advocate for its protection. “It’s hard not to feel inspired when you’re snorkeling around reefs or exploring shipwrecks, but it can be easy to forget about these places once you’re back home in your daily routine. My goal is always to share my experience with others and encourage them to explore their own local areas!” she said.
Frank Mollel, a Master Scuba Diver Trainer, is the first Maasai scuba diver. Divepoint Zanzibar/Billy Kenes
Frank David Mollel lives a life dedicated to protecting our oceans. As a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, an AmbassaDiver from Zanzibar and the co-founder of Linda Bahari Pamoja (“Protecting the Ocean Together”) he’s in the water plenty. However, he grew up in a land-locked region close to the mountains. In fact, Mollel didn’t see or touch the ocean until he was 18 years old.
“As a Maasai (Tribe found in North Tanzania), water is not really our element, and we grow up knowing that we are not made for the waters or dare (sic) to be in the ocean,” he said. “So, I can say I am the first Maasai to dare to try diving.”
Thanks to him, he probably won’t be the last. Linda Baharai Pamoja is a community-based program focused on coral reef restoration and educating youth on the importance of marine ecosystems.
“Live Unfiltered helps us to turn the cameras towards the nature we love,” Mollel said. “Working with the community means I can show or tune in to the right audience to show them how beautiful our underwater world is and why we need to protect it and raise more awareness.”