Finally, it´s happening! For quite a while now I have been trying to organize a Pro Trainer Course with IAHD, the International Association of Handicapped Divers, as our Dive Center SUB SINAI wants to open up new perspectives, further the integrational aspect within scuba diving and open up the beauty of the underwater world to everybody. Daniel Zuidema from IAHD organized the trip together with IAHD/Able To Dive Germany and so we are expecting 7 people, able-bodied and disabled, to arrive on the 2nd of April at Sharm el Sheikh Airport.

I am really very excited about this week to come!

The minibus arrives and 7 people are very surprised and maybe a bit shocked about their new environment:

Dirk Wondrak, IAHD Germany, Course Director, Daniel Zuidema, IAHD, Patrick, physiotherapist, Holger and Olaf-Rolli Olli, both paraplegic, and Uwe with muscular dystrophy in combination with spasm. Britta is Olaf´s wife and is spending the holiday together with her husband.
Soon we have to find out that the steps in front of the hotel rooms are too high for the wheelchairs and also the access to the beach-front restaurant is difficult. But as this is Egypt where something can be made out of nothing, the hotel-owners and my husband Khaled fix some kind of ramps that facilitate things a lot! And within the first half-hour we are in the middle of a discussion about how hotels should be designed to be fully accessible for people with special needs! Yes, that´s exactly what I expected - an exchange of ideas and lots of new input from people who know much better than anybody else, the disabled themselves!

The next morning we start the IAHD Pro Trainer Course with 5 candidates:

Ahmed, Ayman and myself from SUB SINAI and 2 other instructors from Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh.
The practical side of life is taken care of today - we go diving! I am again and again surprised how independent and flexible those guys in their wheelers are and how imaginative they are to make their life easier! We are told that being overly careful and doing everything for the disabled is not what they want - stay back, watch and act when you are asked. Holger and Olli speak very openly about their handicaps, how they happened and what kind of additional health problems they have because of them.

Gosh, I am watching, listening and learning so many things!
Once in the water, which takes us quite a while, Uwe is moving almost like an able-bodied diver, his spasm is hardly visible any more. Holger and Olli move mainly with their arms and hands using special webbed gloves as they have no fins or only use them to stabilize themselves in the water. And everybody´s buoyancy is just perfect, even if this is Holger´s first time diving in the sea!

After a great dive and a relaxing lunch-break with once again lots of questions and discussions Dirk shows us on the second dive various techniques to enter the water with disabled divers and teaches us how to descend/ascend with them and guide them along under water using direct body contact. Looks easy, but Olli turns out to be a ‘tricky customer’ as his legs keep floating up and it is quite difficult to keep him straight and descend in a controlled manner! Holger and Uwe are much easier to deal with as their handicaps affect them in a different way.

Back at the Dive Center our SUB SINAI staff moved one locker unit next to the counter and a new walkway was built between the counter area and the rinse pool to have the wheelchairs move easily - as I said, flexibility is THE most important thing in Egypt…We spend the next 2 days in the classroom looking at IAHD Standards, learning about different disabilities and how to deal with them during scuba diving and having lively discussions.

Again I have the feeling that an intense learning process is taking place - great!
During our theory sessions with Dirk and Patrick/Daniel the rest of the group is out there having fun in the water exploring the Dahab dive sites.

During the next 2 days we dive the breathtaking Canyon site and the world famous Blue Hole. At the Canyon the entry is reasonable easy for the guys and the Lagoon is the perfect place to descend. Everybody loves to go into this impressive underwater crack and the big Napoleon fish right at the fishbowl makes the dive perfect!
The Blue Hole with its wooden footbridges over the reef table proves to be very easy to enter, it is basically like gliding into the water off a boat, so Holger, Olli and Uwe have no problem at all. We have two beautiful dives surrounded by schools of innumerable reef fish and cross the ‘Big Blue’ on our way back through the Blue Hole - an unforgettable experience!
With another dive to the south of Dahab we finish off this beautiful week of diving. Back at the Dive Center Olli surprises us no end. Because diving relaxes his muscles so much, he can actually stand up, leave his wheelchair and, holding on to the wall or some other stable device, walk a few steps! What a chance scuba diving can give to paraplegics!

In the afternoon some guys go off to see different hotels and check out their accessibility. Dirk, Daniel, Khaled and myself discuss future business cooperation and marketing possibilities and we also meet Dr. Hossam Nasef who will be opening in short time the Dahab Recompression Chamber next to SUB SINAI. Medical matters are discussed and the IAHD representatives stress the convenience for disabled customers to have a fully equipped medical facility right next to the Dive Center. This truly is a perfect setup!

In the evening we have a special dinner in the mountains prepared for our guests - Fish Bedouin style, Bedouin rice, salad, vegetables, fresh Bedouin bread and steaming hot Bedouin tea flavoured with fresh herbs from the desert. The Bedouin people working with SUB SINAI prepared the spot in the mountains really beautifully, with candles, carpets and cushions. The incredible night sky with its millions of stars also make this a really special evening for all of us.
On the 8th of April in the morning Dirk hands out the certificates to all those who participated in the course and then it is time to say good-bye. Lots of hugs and kisses are exchanged as well as e-mail addresses and the promises to meet again, either in Dahab or in Europe. Luggage and wheelchairs are stowed away in the minibus and after some final hand waving the minibus disappears out of sight.

For me personally this whole week was marked by plenty of new experiences and the chance to get an insight into the life of people who are not as fortunate as us in being able to move without any physical barriers.
I got new stimuli to think in different directions and new doors opened up, both in terms of my personal way of seeing things and also in finding unexplored business opportunities.
My children had the chance to meet disabled people without barriers and prejudices, finding in them new friends and being able to experience what integration means.

For all this I would like to say thanks to all the people involved, but especially to Uwe, Holger and Rolli-Olli. Thanks for supporting us throughout the Pro Trainer Course, thanks for your openness and honesty and thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge.

And Olli, I really like the words on your stamp - ‘UNDER WATER I CAN FLY…’

For further information please contact:
Daniel Zuidema, IAHD, www.iahd.org, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Dirk Wondrak, IAHD Germany/Able To Dive, www.abletodive.org, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Gabriele Pointner, SUB SINAI, www.subsinai.com, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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