This is the man who taught our king (of the Netherlands) how to dive, a man in love with the submarine world. A man without education, who have no diplomas and an immigrant in Curaçao. He build a business on the Island, which contributes to the society and world. He ordered to build a special submarine to do research for life on the depth of the ocean. A man of hard work and very limited time and although I was coming along by surprise, he made time to show me around his world.
I remembered seeing him 30 years ago in Curaçao when I started diving and my dad told a lot of stories about him when they were working together. And here I was, visiting my daughter in Curaçao who was doing an internship at the Dolphins Academy, part of the Sea Aquarium, Dutch business.
I met him early morning at 7.30. He was leaf-blowing the outside area of the Sea Aquarium.
Actually, I was surprised seeing him doing this. Next to him was a guy waiting for his turn to take over, but Dutch did the job all by himself. He told me:
“If you need a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm.”
‘I know how to work with people by giving them an example and motivate them, I will never tell them how to do the job, I’ll show them.’
He met this guy on the island, an illegal man, homeless, no license to work. Dutch helped him with a job, a work license, and a home. And the guy got himself a wife.
He once was an immigrant himself. Original A Dutchman by birth, but growing up in Canada, went to Florida, Equador, and many other countries. Finally ending up here on Curaçao as a diver, because Curaçao provides one of the most clear water areas all year round.
What fascinates you in life?
I always wanted to make a change. We all have a talent, some of us never discover their talent and if they do, 90 % of the people cannot do anything with it because they don’t have the money to live their talent, they need to make a living. Their talent is unused. I found a way to use my talent.
“This is not work for me, this is hobby, this is a design. I build things. Once it’s there I hand it on to specialists.”
I started the Sea Aquarium to educate the local people as well as visitors from abroad about the marine life and their precious environment and make them more aware about nature. I saw the need for children to be taught about the importance of our marine ecosystems. Our oceans needs protection, we cannot throw garbage into the sea, that’s not good for the species that life there.
“I invest in people.”
Like with the man you saw me with this morning. I treat everybody the same.
At the Sea Aquarium you can see we build things. Like our substation and we find professors to use it for good purpose. We have a team of 20 scientist and professors from all over the world coming over the next three weeks doing research with our submarine. They do research about marine life organism never discovered before. We hope to find new medicines that benefit people all over the world. We are looking for a cure against Malaria, Cancer and Tuberculosis. We made some progress already. The substation was build and designed in Canada for our needs. It took 3,5 years.
“I cannot achieve this alone of course. Only in team work you can make big difference.”
We still need more finance to make this possible. One of our projects sponsor is Bill Gates, he came her to join us with our substation to take a look at the unbelievable depths into the ocean. But we need more…
When I later on talked to one of the professors/ scientist and he said: ‘90 % of my work is writing resume’s, collecting money for research, etc. But those two weeks I’m here… this is why I studied for, this is why I do it. Nowhere else in the world is research in the ocean done with so much quality.’What are you grateful for?
I want to make a positive impact on the world. I’m uneducated, never went to school and have no diploma’s, I learned by life. And now I get a change to work with the top people of the world and I’m really grateful for it. Also that I’m able (with my team) to explore unexplored areas in the world.
What brought you to Curaçao?
I was originally a diver. After I came here I wanted to do more with marine life, do research too. And contribute to the people living here on this island.
What do you love about Curaçao?
I love Curaçao cause it gives me the freedom it provides me without limits. What I’ve build here I could never have build somewhere else in the world.
The Sea Aquarium and Dolphins Academy doesn’t get me any money, I’m putting money in it instead of gaining it. I get no finance from the government, I all have to finance it myself.
“Every penny that comes in, goes out for a good reason.”
But the projects must be sustainable at one point. That’s why tourism is involved. What do you own your success to?
What’s the definition of success? Successful people are people who have achieved their goals, no matter how big or smalls his or her goals are. The Sea Aquarium is not profitable, I build this by building beaches and property and than sold it for good money. Among them ‘Mambo Beach’ and ‘Wet and Wild’. All these areas were build by me. That’s why I could do the things I wanted to do. That’s why I could use my talent.
Have you reached your goals?”
I have made some successful goals locally on Curaçao to contribute to society. Now I’m busy with my international goals, to make a true international impact.
“I’m involved now with a small team of dedicated professionals whom make a true difference in the world. Only with a group of people you can make such an impact”
What drives you?
Work, work, work, there’s so much that need to be done. Although I don’t see it as work.
Which people inspire you to live your life you do?
I get inspired by different people.
Jaques Cousteau was one of them. He was an uneducated adventurer who was a real explorer. I like to be an adventurer and to explore too.
But I get also inspired by refugees. People who start a new life somewhere else in the world. My parents where kind of refugees, they left The Netherlands because an extreme flood in 1953 destroyed their home and everything around it and they immigrated to Canada. By hard work they build their new lives again. They were immigrant due to necessity, I’m immigrant by choice.
Where are you most proud of?
Dolphins Academy is one of them. After the Sea Aquarium a logical step was to build the Dolphins Academy as a part of this. We try to facilitate researchers that can help us learn more about dolphins and use the knowledge to educate and inspire our guests for a better living environment for dolphins.
The marine basins of the dolphins are natural basins with real corals of the sea, salt water and all marine life complete. They are an extension of the sea. So they live in their natural habitat. We even take the dolphins along to the open water and they come back again themselves.
After we create the CDTC (Curaçao Dolphin Therapy & Research Centre). It’s about therapy and revalidation programs for children who are disabled and drop outs of society, a forgotten group of people. There are no tourists involved. It’s to help children.
There are people whom criticise our work with dolphins. Well you can’t please them all. With all respect, what do they, the ones who complain, do benefit for society and give back to nature life? It’s easy to criticise others and do nothing yourself.
What did you learned all along the way? And what tips would you give to other entrepreneurs?
“Don’t be afraid to try and if you fall and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Rise and try again. You constantly have to adapt with the tides”
What are your top tips to do on the Island?
1) Go for an ocean dive in open water with the dolphins.
2) Go with the submarine.
Those two are really unique experiences. Nowhere in the world you can have this kind of experience.
Actually at the end I forgot him to ask one question: ‘How do you want people to remember you?’
But I think I know the answer: “Dutch, a man who makes a difference”
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Like to read the story of Chiara and her internship in Curaçao: Chiara’s involvement with nature