In 2010, Hanli Prinsloo had already broken all of South Africa’s freediving records but diving up and down a rope to various depths was losing its appeal. The ocean had so much more to offer and she didn’t need another record to know her body was capable of diving down 65 meters. That’s when Hanli began using her body’s diving abilities to experience and interact with the whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and other creatures that live in the ocean wilderness. Hanli’s encounters deepened her desire to take care of the oceans, and she wanted others to experience this connection as well.
This drive led to the founding of I AM WATER with the goal to build understanding of the interdependence of healthy humans and healthy oceans and to influence behaviors to protect our global seas. She began by working with youth in her hometown of Cape Town, South Africa and the more northern coastal city of Durban. Although these kids grew up near the ocean, they had very little ocean experience and knew very little about ocean life. Hanli has now helped more than 1,300 youth fall in love with the ocean and the seals and the kelp forest that are part of their local coastal ecosystems. From this point forward the I AM WATER movement began to spread, and today the I Am Water Team offers global ocean experiences.
How DO you define the word “commitment”?
For me, commitment is a combination of passion and grit. Being active in the non-profit world offers none of the more common rewards associated with success (money, fame etc.) but when you are deeply and truly driven by a purpose greater than yourself, in my case the conservation and appreciation of our oceans, then through true commitment (grit and passion!) you achieve your goals.
I founded I AM WATER in 2010 with the burning desire to see more of my fellow South Africans get to experience our incredible ocean. I believe that we protect what we love, yet so few South Africans ever get to see the ocean and what she holds – so how can we expect a conservation-mindedness when there is no experience, let alone love!
In South Africa access to the ocean and swimming skills are divided straight down the color line, white South Africans have grown up with access to swimming pools, beaches, swim schools or family members who have taught us swimming—while most black South Africans have very little access to the ocean. A deep fear of water is common in many communities. Our Ocean Guardians workshops work with Grade 7 students from schools in low-income communities where learners live less than five kilometers from the beach but have never seen what the ocean has to offer. We host two-day ocean education, mindfulness and snorkeling workshops where the Grade 7’s get to explore the rocky shores, learn about their breathing and their bodies’ incredible adaptation to water and of course – snorkel! Seeing their eyes open underwater for the first time is the most rewarding thing! We measure impact not only by how many learners get to experience our ocean immersion workshops, but also by what affect it has on them.
I have crafted a career for myself based on the things I treasure most in life, and there is no course in university to study what I do from day to day. My unwavering commitment to our ocean has shaped how I use my talents and skills to achieve the greatest impact.
I’ve always put my work and my passion first—maybe this has led me to leave thoughts of a family for rather late in life? But in every other way, I don’t feel that being a woman has had a significant impact on how I have chosen to do life.
From weeks on remote islands hosting freediving trips to long days on the beach helping children overcome their fears, to staggering around in high heels at important events no two days of my job look the same! I love this diversity and the challenge of always asking ‘is this the best thing I can do with this day?
I want I AM WATER to be a secure and widely impactful organization with a solid leadership team. I want to see some of my ideas put down in the books I never get time to write, and I want to be still spending many, many days in and underwater.
In whatever way I can, I want to have played a significant role in the protection of our oceans through I AM WATER but also through advocacy and awareness. I want to be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the ocean.
Do you know how it feels to be so dedicated to a cause that it consumes your whole being, your every waking moment, and all of your thoughts—even when the world tells you, you’re crazy? You or someone you know may be our next recipient – maybe your neighbor, your cousin or your friend is among these selfless women committed to making a difference in the world. We are sure somewhere around the world; there are many special women living this definition of commitment. Nominations for the Simone Awards 2020 are now open.