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‘Self-confidence a must in diving’ Having a disability no excuse in not pursuing your dream

SOME people bow out as soon as they come across an obstacle, some try to overcome it, but eventually yield to the adversity. But others will do what it takes to tear down that wall obstructing their path to glory; they do not yield to whatever hardship life throws at them, for the greater the obstacle, the greater glory in overcoming it. Such is the case with Faisal Al-Musawi, a Kuwaiti youth who experienced a horrible car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Despite Faisal’s disability, he did not falter from fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a diver, with courage, determination and help from family, as well as his diving trainer, his dream was fulfilled.
In this interview, Faisal, through his experience, talks about the challenges of a handicapped diving enthusiast and what can be done to make life for people like him better in Kuwait.  Along with him is his diving trainer, Mishari Al Khabaz, who revels in Faisal’s achievement and explains the challenge from his angle.

Question: Let me begin with the trainer. Give us a brief idea about your experience in training Faisal.
Mishari: Before we accept any person with a disability for the training course, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), which is the organization that we work in accordance to, and issues the diving licenses, requires the applicant to provide us with a doctor’s note, stating that he\she is capable of undertaking physical training.
The first license a trainee can gain is the “open water” diving license, which starts with 5 classes, where the trainee learns the essentials in terms of equipment definitions, the science behind diving and the marine environment.
To Faisal, this part of the course was easy for him; it was when we started the practical training where he found some difficulties because of his disability.
I had to teach him how to assembly his equipment on the ground, as well as dissembling it under water and reassembling it once again, all that while trying my best to keep him safe.
Most trainees face difficulties during the practical training, but it seemed easy to Faisal, I admired Faisal’s determination to overcome the hardships that normal people usually struggle to overcome during practical training, such as breaking that “breath under water” barrier.

Q: Would you say that the most difficult part of your role as a trainer is ensuring Faisal’s safety?
Mishari: yes, that was the most difficult part, his safety was prioritized, with Faisal’s disability; I had to improvise in almost everything, for instance, when we were training under water at the pool, divers usually weary scuba fins, since Faisal is disabled from the waist down, scuba fins are practically useless, in order to get a feel of what Faisal is going though, I removed mine.

Q: Coming to Faisal, when did you start training to be a diver?
Faisal: I started in 2009 and got my first license which was the “open water” license in 2010.
The open water license that Faisal acquired enables him to dive down to 18 meters, and use the required equipment just like any other trainee; we did not grant him special equipment.

Q: Aren’t there special equipments that would have aided Faisal in his training?
Mishari: Yes, I suggested for him to use the “under water scooter” to aid him but he refused, to this day he is adamant in refusing any special aid.
Faisal: That’s true, I didn’t want any special treatment or aid during training nor after, I wanted to be treated like any other trainee, and to dive like any other diver, granted that it is more tiring for me, but at least I am diving like any other diver out there.

Q: What made you lean towards diving?
Faisal: I’ve always dreamt of diving as a kid, but I experienced an incident where I almost drowned, and since then I developed a fear of water, but after my accident which caused my disability, my “disability” itself gave me a strong determination to overcome obstacles, so as part of physical therapy, I started swimming again, overcoming my fear of water and leading me to pursue my childhood dream of diving.

Q: What was the biggest obstacle you have faced in terms of your disability, and in diving?
Faisal: Regarding my disability, it would be merging with the society, being born with a disability is different to my case; I had to re-learn how to deal with everything, figuring life out all over again, but thanks to Allah I successfully overcame this obstacle.
Regarding diving, it would have to be my very first dive into the sea, I was so nervous that I almost changed my mind and to go back home.
Mishari: I would like to add that diving in Kuwait or in the Gulf in general is not like diving anywhere else, here in Kuwait we have what we call a “harsh diving environment,” we have bad visibility under water, as well as strong currents.

Q: What other difficulties did you face during your training?
Faisal: Almost everything done for the first time is difficult, I didn’t really face “difficulties” per say, more like “challenges.” For example, when we was training in shallow water, I was required to stand up, in my case I could not do such things, therefore my trainer had to pick me up and proceed accordingly, or when we were training to gain natural buoyancy under water, which would have been easy if I was able to use my legs.
Mishari: We basically had to improvise in almost every aspect of the course, from entering the water to body checks under water, I must also point out that under water maneuvers and pressure equalizing require leg movements, but Faisal did it without them.

Q: Share with us one of your most interesting diving experience.
Faisal: That would be my dive at the 5th best diving spot in the world, in Sipadan Malaysia, that trip was very exhausting for me, because long hours of flights and transits I landed in the wrong place, but that didn’t stop me from continuing my trip, my doctor advised me to avoid sitting on my wheelchair for more than 3 hours, but in that trip with all the problems in reservations and such forced me to stay on my chair for over 20 hours, but because of my determination to dive in such a beautiful spot I endured the physical stress on my body due to the long hours.
When resorts learned about my disability and desire to dive in Sipadan, 3 different resorts started competing with each other in order to have me stay at their resort, this was because I was going to be the 1st disabled person to have ever dived in Sipadan, which is now documented in their books.

On the actual dive, I and my brother, who accompanied me on this trip, were the only divers amongst the 60 divers with us, who had an advanced diving license, allowing us to dive 30 meters under water, while the rest could only dive 18 meters. 
Everyone in Sipadan was amused and intrigued by me and the fact that I am a diver with a disability, everyone from other divers, resort employees to normal pedestrians stopped to take pictures with me as if I was a celebrity, to the point that the diving official that was in charge of me was using me to inspire other divers, telling them “I’ve seen Faisal dive, and i must say that his techniques are better that yours, and on top of that, he has a more advanced license than all of you.
If I would describe the whole experience in one word, it would be “amazing.”
Mishari: They were probably more amazed about the fact that Faisal has 4 different diving licenses, 2 standards and 2 special licenses.
To divers, having 4 licenses is impressive enough, let alone the fact of Faisal’s disability.

Q: How many kinds of licenses are there, and what are the 4 licenses that you currently have?
Faisal: There are 6 primary licenses that you can acquire; I have 2 out of 6, “Open Water” and “Advanced Diving,” I also have “Enriched Air NitroX Diving” and “Night Diving,” which are considered special licenses.
Night diving is self explanatory, but enriched air NitroX is diving with a special king of oxygen in order to increase diving duration.

Q: Are you planning to acquire more licenses?
Faisal: Yes, I am planning to acquire the next primary license, which is  “Rescue Diving,” I am looking forward to it, and will hopefully be easy, as I sometimes guide and make sure everything is OK when I dive with friends.
Mishari: Faisal is planning to go the distance, which is what we need here at the Kuwait Science Club, we need people like Faisal to inspire other people with disabilities to do what they want to do, and that show them that nothing is impossible.
And if they want to dive, they should not hesitate and try, we are more than happy to receive them and train them the same way Faisal was trained.
Faisal: And people with disabilities need people like my trainer Mishal, as he played a big role in making my dream possible, his attitude towards my desire to dive was positive and welcoming, if I had approached another training centre and the trainer did not welcome the same way that Mishal did in terms of acceptance, i wouldn’t be here speaking to you right now.
Some trainers might be scared of accepting a disabled person, and tell him/her that it will be difficult to peruse diving, crushing his/her confidence, which is something you should never do to a disabled person.

Q: Give us a brief idea on how the Kuwait Science Club and its diving training centre dealt with Faisal’s case.
Mishari: When I first received Faisal’s application, I had just graduated as a diving trainer, and I saw Faisal’s case as a challenge, and possibility to start a phase where we can train the disabled here in Kuwait, I therefore consulted the club’s management, and they were very interested in the matter, forming special timetables for his course, not because he’s disabled, but because we wanted to insure his safety, while training him in accordance with PADI standards.
Faisal: PADI is well recognized around the world when it comes to diving, to the point that during my driving trip in Malaysia, trainers advised me to use diving aids, but as soon as they saw my PADI issued license, they stopped and allowed me to do what I wanted.
Mishari: 70 percent of issued diving licenses around the world are from PADI, and here in Kuwait, our diving centre in responsible for 320 licenses being issued by PADI during last year, which prompted Teo Brambila, regional manager of PADI to visit Kuwait, where he held a seminar to support the efforts of Kuwait Science Club and its diving centre.
As Faisal’s trainer, I informed Teo about Faisal’s case, achievements and his plans to acquire more advanced diving licenses, which he was happy to hear, and advised us to provide him with what he needs to achieve his goal. 

Q: But isn’t that a type of special treatment? Which you do not want any of?
Mishari: What Teo meant by “provide him with what he needs” is to basically pave the way for him to be an inspiration to others, which he has no problems in doing it by himself, but the least we can do is provide support.

Q: In your opinion, is Kuwait friendly towards people with disabilities?
Faisal: Kuwait has one of the best laws in the world in regard to disabled people, but unfortunately, it is not implemented, and the disabled community knows this very well.
The Kuwaiti public’s friendliness to people with disabilities, it is very high, Ii personally did not experience any unfriendliness, but since I know other people with disabilities, I learned that the public does not have the awareness that I thought they had, specially to people with “Down Syndrome,” who get laughed at from time to time.
In terms of awareness, the public has significantly improved in the past 10 years, but our main problem is the government, as it is not putting enough effort in merging the disabled with our society.
For example, the government claims that people with special needs can apply for jobs, but in reality we are rejected because of our disabilities.
Another is the establishment of the sports club for people with disabilities, why doesn’t the government obligate normal sports clubs to recruit people with disabilities to play for them, especially for sports that they are prominent in, like athletics.
I have proposed this idea to the Public Authority of Youth and Sports, because this will effectively assimilate people with disabilities with our society.
The same applies to schools, students with disabilities are segregated from the rest of the world, and are enrolled in special schools, and when they graduate and join college, they feel lost, they cannot properly interact with normal people, because they never actually learned how to, due to the segregation.

Q: What would you suggest the government should do in order to help people with disabilities affectively? 
Faisal: Increase efforts in merging the disabled into society, and increase public awareness on how to deal with the disabled, because on some occasions, where a disabled person gets lost, people nearby don’t know how to deal with the situation; they just stand and stare instead.
Therefore, the government must increase public awareness towards the disabled in terms of sports, education, and even health, in a rich country like Kuwait, we do not have Doctors who specializes in the field of disabilities, until this day, I act as my own doctor.
Rephrasing, we need better “Governmental Awareness” towards people with disabilities.
Mishari: We here at the Kuwait Science Club are attentive to people with disabilities, and we have previously approached institutions for the disabled, but we did meet the same attitude.

Q: Sometimes excess sympathy or media attention can also turn into form of discrimination, do you feel that here?
Faisal: I don’t really get a lot of sympathy, admiration and sometimes envy yes, but not sympathy, regarding the media attention, I consider it an obligation, I feel that I have to inspire other disabled people, making them believe that they can do what they have always wanted to do, exactly like I did, and that all you need is determination and courage.
I must thank Allah for this, as a lot of disable people have responded to my efforts with the media, and they cannot wait for summer to come so they can join the diving centre.
Mishari: The main difference between our centre and other here in Kuwait, is that we are a non-profit organization, and by the end of the day, all our efforts can be considered as social services.   

Q: With what has been said, what is “The Dream” for you?
Faisal: Well, first one would be to graduate as an official diving trainer, not just for people with disabilities, but for every one, which I plan to achieve within the next two years,  and second would be to dive in all of the best diving spots in the world, which is more of a long term plan, and if everything goes according to plan, I will be heading to Australia next month, to dive at Great Barrier Reef, I plan to tick off one or two diving spots off the list every year, by diving in and holding up the Kuwait flag in these spots.

Q: If you had one message to deliver to the public, what would it be?
Faisal: As a person on a wheel chair, I would say that when it comes to diving, self confidence is a must.
Mishari: My message is directed to people with disabilities, “nothing is preventing you from trying, having a disability is not an excuse, therefore, if your doctor gives you the green light, and you have even the slightest desire, go for it,” I also want to advise other diving centers to try taking in people with disabilities and train them, don’t think about making money, think about the service your providing to society.  

Faisal Al Musawi is a professional diver with 4 different diving licenses, 2 standard and 2 special licenses from the prestigious PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), which is an international body. Faisal has achieved this despite being paralyzed in the lower half of his body following an accident. He has conducted dives at five of the world’s best diving spots including Sipadam in Malaysia.

Mishari Al Khabaz, who is Musawi’s trainer, is the Vice-chairman of the Kuwaiti Diving Team and Manager of the diving team’s training centre. He is also a member in the Kuwait Science Club in addition to being a Senior Professional Association for Diving Instructors (PADI) trainer and an Official Emergency First Response (EFR) trainer.

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Time Staff

By: Faisal Al Musawi and Mishari Al Khabaz

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