By Dr. Waheed
I visited 5 islands on 16th and 17th to meet the people on those islands and to listen to their concerns. The main official purpose of the visit to Thinadhoo was to officiate at the 42nd Anniversary of the Mohammed Mahir Preschool.
It’s been about 18 months after the change of government, and the people have not started to realize the benefits of this transition. Expectations have been high including, expectations for immediate improvements the basic standard of living. This hasn’t happened largely due to the economic crisis faced by the country. Although the prices of goods have remained stable, there are fears that cost of living will increase due to the rise in fuel prices and the hikes in electricity rates. Fishing is generally slow and many families rely on the support of a family member working in Male or in a resort. Surprisingly, the 2000 Rufia old age pension given by this government to people over 65 years has become a major source of family support for many in these islands.
Those few who have stable government employment on the islands are now afraid that they will lose their jobs. People have heard that civil service will be reduced. There is also some concern that unless one belongs to the main ruling MDP, that person has no chance of getting a new job or remaining in the current job. Therefore, lack of job opportunities and the fear of losing a job are major concerns of the people.
Young men and women who have completed their Grade 10 education are helpless in finding work. Most young women are simply staying at home and continue to be dependent on their aging parents. Unemployment is likely to increase in the short term and add to the already worsening state of poverty in the country.
It was refreshing to see that NGO’s are becoming more active in development programmes. I was happy to inaugurate a youth camp organized by the Hoadedhdhoo development association. They had invited youth from neighboring islands for a workshop on youth development and drugs awareness and education. Support to these types of local NGOs is very important to reach out to the young people, especially in the remote islands.
I was really pleased that I was able to visit Rathafandhoo. When my grandfather was forced to leave Thinadhoo after it was destroyed in 1962, he and his family migrated to this island. I was able to meet some remarkable elderly people, two of them in their nineties, and one who was my grandfather’s first cousin. It looked like literally everyone on that island is related to me.
It’s a beautiful island, but many people have left it in search of education. As a result, the population has dwindled and many houses remain vacant and decaying. Those who have come to Male for education have done very well. The island can be proud of its children many of whom have achieved higher education both in Male’ and abroad.
On the island of Nadalla, I was struck by the number of young people and children. Their biggest concern was understandably education and employment. All by coincidence, I came across a group of young men who are employed in Kooddoo fish factory. They were all worried because they were under the impression that the factory was about to lay them off following a mandatory two weeks leave. They were also concerned because their fellow employees from Thinadhoo were allowed greater benefits than they were in that they were given leave to visit their families every week while the young men from this island could only visit their island once in two weeks. This is apparently because the MDP MP from Thinadhoo was able to make a special provision for their employees. I was able to call the manager at the factory and clarify the issues for them. But in spite of my attempt to ease their concerns, I learned that most of the employees who were in Kooddoo went on strike the following day. I lament that such disparities have resulted as a result of political maneuverings.
Madaveli was a real surprise and further accentuated political maneuverings in this region. I was met by a small hostile group calling the government to fulfill the pledges. Most of the placards were against the Provincial officers and the MP. One placard was calling me to leave the government and join the opposition. I spoke to them and explained the status of various development projects planned for the island. This whole event was a reflection of the local politics, all orchestrated for my attention. It was also a surprise in other more pleasant ways. I was able to discover some old friends and make some new ones. Like many other islands they wanted to know what was happening with harbor development and sewerage projects.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive account of my trip. It’s only some reflections and a record of the experience. Clearly, I was especially impressed by the young people and their plight in the rural areas. They need vocational and technical education and jobs. They also need sports and recreational activities desperately. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as a priority in the ongoing development programmes. I hope that we will be able to pay more attention to these in the near future.