Meet expat, master diver, and the first and only female dockhand at Yas Marina Abu Dhabi – Gulf News

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For Nancy Kadzo, a certified diver and boat operator, life is all about empowering ‘the girl child’. Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, we spoke to Kadzo about how she found a way to do what she loves as a full-time career in a male-dominated industry.

The Abu Dhabi resident is the first and only female dockhand in Yas Marina, and her story is one of breaking barriers of culture, money and stigma.

The 53-year-old born in Mombasa explained, “I have always loved the water, and wanted to learn swimming but there was always a fear associated with water [in the community] – especially for girls. There were so many superstitions and fears of drowning.”

Her mum led the way

To add to that, Kadzo said, she grew up in a culture where educating girls was not a priority. But her mother changed the trajectory of Kadzo’s life.

“My mum came from a different community and as a teacher started a school. The government noticed and helped her go to the UK with a bursary and get qualified – she did her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education in the UK.”

She added, “My mum got me a UK visa, and I finished my studies, and worked in the hospitality sector there for a few years, before returning home.”

However, Kadzo soon realized that with the lack of hotel opportunities and affordable training, she had to have a ‘plan B’.

Saudi, and then the UAE

She had heard of the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, and wanted to see the country for herself. Kadzo was hired for a hospitality job in the Kingdom where she worked for two years, and then again for four years following a brief return to Kenya.

“I loved the country and the job. But then I heard about the UAE from the girls I stayed with – about the beautiful country with great opportunities.”

Kadzo is a certified boat driver, and can drive powerboats, harbor patrol boats and other smaller vessels.
Image Credit: Supplied

Kadzo went out on a limb and secured a hospitality job in Dibba, Fujairah where she had to handle guest relations. And, as luck would have it, the job was at walking distance from a diving centre.

Getting certified as a diver

“That [diving] became my goal, to get certified so I could start diving professionally and teach others too…” Kadzo explained.

Kadzo started saving monthly, so she could purchase diving gear, and to pay for PADI programs. She also had to budget for sending money home to take care of her elderly mum who’d become a widow.

“The second year I paid in full for the Advance Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, EFR and Dive Master Programs,” Kadzo proudly reminisced.

The third year, Kadzo became a fully certified diving professional with the PADI Dive master certification. She also holds PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and PADI Rescue Diver certifications.

Teaching others to dive

Kadzo could finally make a career doing what she loved and she started with a job at an Abu Dhabi-based diving centre.

Kadzo has PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Dive Master, Advanced Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver certifications.
Image Credit: Supplied

She added, “I joined as a PADI Dive Master while studying to become a PADI Assistant Instructor.” She led several diving courses, especially ones that were women-only and became very popular.

“I was very happy to do that, and it gave me ideas of what I want to do back in my country for young girls,” Kadzo said.

She got her boating licence during this time with the Royal Yacht Association Power Boat Level 2 Approved by the Federal Transport Authority, Abu Dhabi. The training allowed Kadzo to drive powerboats, harbor patrol boats and other smaller vessels. She got the STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) to add to her boating certifications.

COVID impact

Though COVID hit and the center had to close operations temporarily, Kadzo found another diving centre job, and went on to get her PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer certification – the highest certification available as a recreational diver.

PADI certifications

Master Scuba Diver (sometimes referred to as “MSD”) is PADI’s highest level of recreational diving.
Fewer than two percent of divers ever become Master Scuba Divers, so it’s rare to meet someone with this level of experience and scuba training. For this reason, Master Scuba Diver is sometimes referred to as ‘the black belt of diving.’

Eligibility requirements:

* Hold an Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver, and Rescue Diver certification
* Complete five PADI Specialty Diver courses
* Log a minimum of 50 dives
* Aged 12 or older

Source: PADI official website

The first female dockhand in Yas

This is around when Kadzo started her current role as a female dockhand at Yas Marina, where she combines her diving expertise, hotel relations experience and boating credentials.

“I have to deal with our VIP clients who have yachts docked in the marina, and we are Ocean Ambassadors, so we maintain the cleanliness of the marina,” Kadzo said.

As the only woman on the team, Kadzo works the daytime shift.

“I start at 9, and finish around 6. Apart from helping the boats dock, and planning the arrivals and departures, ensuring proper communications, I also have to check for drafts as yachts come in. As a certified rescue diver, I swim down to check this before the boats come in,” Kadzo explained.

Kadzo is also a certified free diver, diving down to 15 metres without equipment. She said, “I have ‘rescued’ and recovered so many items for people including car keys, fishing equipment, wedding rings, access cards, bank cards, and a kids’ scooter – and even a phone that was underwater for four days and still working!”

As for working in a male-dominated industry, Kadzo has faced some challenges, mainly to do with perception and doubts regarding her skills.

“I have ‘rescued’ and recovered so many items for people including car keys, fishing equipment, wedding rings, access cards, bank cards, and a kids’ scooter – and even a phone that was underwater for four days and still working!”

She said, “I was lucky to be interviewed by a management team who wanted to see the first woman join the marina operations team.”

Kadzo is continuing to learn, and has added a leadership certification to her list of accolades – a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification with the help of her employer, Miral.

Speaking about her Kenya plans, she said, “I have already started planning, but I am not ready to retire yet. I need to learn more so I can go back and ensure young girls can have the opportunity to learn diving and swimming.”

“I want to empower the girl child, and educate them so they can achieve anything.”

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