Where do all these Manadonese dive guides come from?

This article was originally written in German, by our friend Liliane Hennicke at Manta Reisen. In this post she describes how Simone Gerritsen started with an idea and ended up with North Sulawesi’s most successful diving education for local dive guides.

You meet them all over Indonesia: dive guides from Manado, North Sulawesi. Any Raja Ampat resort or Komodo liveaboard, will have at least one guide or instructor from North Sulawesi on the payroll.

How did Manado become the diving Harvard of Indonesia? There is one person behind it all – a woman with heart, and a teacher with passion.

A woman with a mission

Simone and her students
Simone & her students

Dutchwoman Simone Gerritsen has been living in North Sulawesi for over 20 years. Her story starts in estabishing a dive center in Tongkeina, a sleepy fishing village several kilometers north of Manado.

As course director and dive shop owner, she came to North Sulawesi just to consult this newly-built dive center.

Who would have guessed that 20 years later, Manado would still be her home? During this time, she became the surrogate mother of many Indonesian kids, next her two biological children. This is why her students affectionately call her Ibu (mother) since 1999.

The start of something bigger

Say cheese!
The Smiling People

Besides building the dive center and training the diving guides, Simone starts her first social project.

This project is aimed at the older villagers: the family fathers. Lack of alternatives and boredom causes them to sit in front of their huts drinking sugar cane moonshine.

Construction of a community centre offers a place for games and sports activities. Simone notices that besides the drunkards, many children roam the village. They run around on the street, playing with their dogs. Shouldn’t they spend their time learning their ABC’s and multiplication tables instead?

The school under construction
Under construction…

A school in tatters

There is a village school, but absence is extremely high. This goes for both kids as well as teachers. The small primary school is on the verge of falling apart. Bad furniture, an inadequate power supply and harmful asbestos are only a few of the problems. A complete renovation is necessary.

Lack of commitment from local government spurs Simone into action. After all: why start an employment programme for bored villagers, if the younger generation choose exactly the same career?

Besides renovation, a school fee should boost the school’s income and motivate the teachers. This is a small contribution, but not all families can afford it: too much was invested in the moonshine.

Gaining momentum

Katrili dancers
The Katrili Dancers

Once more, Ibu Simone takes on the mother role and helps out. With limited financial means, she asks her diving guests for donations. In return, the students come to her dive resort and entertain guests with traditional dance and song performances. A fundraising system is born!

News of the opening and the success of the new school spreads quickly. More and more villages in the area ask the Dutchwoman for help.

We need a foundation

The school with a fresh coat of paint
A beauty of a building

Fundraising needs to be professionalized, so the Dutch foundation Kehidupan Anda (meaning “Your Life”) is born. With increased financial power, Simone’s inexhaustible ideas can become reality. This is exactly where the origin of the diving school lies.

Students now have an asbestos-free roof over their heads and the dads play games and sports in the community centre. But where are the young people? Having the chance to learn a profession and earn money, they won’t sit around bored in the village later on. Moreover, they will have the financial means to pay the school fees for their own children.

Giving the ability to choose

Another educational institution is required. Donations help erect the first vocational secondary school of the region in the summer of 2007. The two chosen subjects of the school are hotel and diving tourism.

Demand for hotel and diving staff in Manado was already high at the time and has increased in recent years. The growing diving tourism business certainly helped.

School graduates have an almost 100% employment guarantee in their home region. But some also venture out into Indonesia to find a job in a dive resort or on a liveaboard.

Learning on the job

Dive students prepping their gear
Open Water Course

In addition to class lessons, students gain practical skills at Simone’s two Thalassa dive resorts. Even today, she still teaches the children herself.

Step by step, students train as boat captains, boat crew or dive guides. The lessons are tailored to the strengths and potential of each individual. Some go one step further: gaining a few years of work experience to become Dive Masters and even Instructors.

Raising awareness through education

A successful cleanup done!
A succesful mission

Apart from the curriculum and PADI guidelines, students also take part in many other projects. They learn to protect the underwater world, and participate in various events. From beach clean-ups, to coral planting and finathlons.

To inspire other children as well as guests, they perform the so-called “trash zombie dances”. With the waste they collect on the beaches they make costumes for their dance performances.

The Trash Zombies
Thriller Night

Simone is much more than just a teacher for Manadonese kids. Besides being a trainer, educator and mentor, she always has an ear for the personal problems of her protégés.

So where does this 66-year-old get her energy from? Her answer is clear:

Seeing how not only career prospects of young people in North Sulawesi have improved, but their interaction with nature and the underwater world, gives me energy to continue.


And she continues tirelessly. The school expands to distinguish itself with broad range of courses in the hotel industry. This will ensure a future for even more young people in North Sulawesi. Summarily, more dive resorts in Indonesia will be able to find good guides.

A real change

The hotel and diving tourism school remains a life-changing project for the youth of North Sulawesi. As guest in one of the Thalassa resorts you’re guaranteed to meet students, alumni and instructors from Indonesia’s Diving Harvard.

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Picture of Arjen Bokhoven

Arjen Bokhoven

I'm a PADI Advanced Open Water diver, I do guest relations and resort management at Thalassa Dive Resorts Indonesia. Whether I'm diving the walls of Bunaken to spot schools of fish & turtles, or explore the sandy flats of Lembeh with its fascinating underwater creatures- I love all of it.

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