Zoona Naseem | Owner & Co-Founder of Moodhu Bulhaa Dive Centre

Zoona Naseem is the Owner and Co-founder of Moodhu Bulhaa, a popular local dive centre located in Vilimale’. She is also the first female PADI Course Director in the Maldives, renowned for her work in dive education and environmental advocacy.

Our team sat down to have a chat with Zoona about her career so far, and to delve deep into how the dive industry has evolved over the years.

How did you first get into diving? Why did you decide to pursue it as a career?

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After finishing school, I initially joined the Fisheries Ministry. However, I wasn’t very interested in a desk job. Then, I got the opportunity to work as a receptionist at a dive centre in Male’. While I was there, I went on my first ever dive with a Japanese female dive instructor. After that dive, I got very inspired. I thought, wow, this is a career path I could pursue too.

At the time, there were no female local dive instructors in the Maldives, despite the number of foreign women carrying out such roles at resorts. It’s a well-paid job, and I wanted to earn a good income. So, within one year, I got my instructor license and began my professional dive journey.

How do you balance your personal and professional life?

I don’t really consider diving as ‘work’, because it’s something I’m really passionate about. It’s more like a daily routine for me, and I try to involve my family as much as possible. For example, when I go for a dive, my kids will be at the beach, watching me as I teach. My husband and I both share the work load at home. If one of us is going for dive, for instance, the other will be cooking and feeding the kids. In that sense, there’s equal responsibility between both of us, and we support each other along the way.

In niche industries like the dive industry, the male to female ratio remains very high. What are the biggest obstacles that prevent women from joining this field?

The typical mindset in the Maldives is that if a woman joins a resort, she is entering a toxic workplace environment. We need to let go of this image. When I first told my mother I was joining the dive industry, she reacted very differently. She encouraged me, and told me that the values I’ve been instilled with will carry forward with me, no matter what industry I work in.

Hospitality in general is a very male-dominant field. However, I personally never faced any challenges due to my gender. I learned how to be independent and work on my own. Working in this industry builds discipline, and you are exposed to so many different outlets. For example, if you work at the dive centre, you may still get the chance to undergo inter-departmental trainings like I did. This means that even if you want to change your career down the line, you will have already been exposed to other fields that you can join too.

What’s more, by working at the resort, you tend to save a lot more than you spend. This means you can invest your savings into building something for yourself in the future. I’m a good example of this. I worked nonstop in the tourism industry for 18 years, and saved all my earnings. After I gave birth to my child, I wanted to run my own dive centre. I’m very grateful now, because I have so much freedom; I can look after my children, work on my own terms, all without having to pay off a loan. I believe that anyone can achieve this, if they work hard and dedicate themselves towards their goals.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in your career?

Honestly, my proudest achievement is being able to show so many people the underwater beauty of the Maldives. Especially if it’s someone who has never dived before, if I manage to show them the underwater world just once, even with great difficulty, I would consider it an achievement for me.

There are other achievements I can list; I have been the recipient of a National Award, and was also one of the selected five ‘Local Hero’ award winners at the international Ocean Awards in the UK. But more than any award, I feel most rewarded when I get feedback from my students, and when I see the smiles of joy on their faces.

Do you have any words for young divers who want to succeed in this industry?

There is a lot of potential for growth if you join the dive industry. At every resort in the Maldives, there are dive instructor jobs available. With the development of guesthouse tourism, there are opportunities to open your own dive centres on local islands as well.

If you want to succeed in this industry, discipline and punctuality are very important. You also have to be incredibly passionate about what you do. If you wake up tomorrow and miserably think, — oh, I have to wake up so early and do the same thing all over again — then, you’re probably better off doing something else. You need to have the motivation and the drive to keep going no matter what challenges come your way. Don’t quit, believe in yourself, and you will succeed.

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