Minivan News spends 15 Minutes with Friends of Maldives (FOM) founder David Hardingham.
1)FOM has been doing a lot of relief work for the Maldives, can you outline the types of things you have been doing?
We have sent about 100 tons of Aid to the Maldives comprising of food, water, medical equipment, clothing, tents and household equipment.
Our teams of Maldivian and British volunteers in the Maldives have visited Meemu, Vaavu, Thaa and Laamu Atolls and distributed FOM Aid. Last week an FOM team went to Meedhoo, Maa Eboodhoo, Vaanee, Gemendhoo and Kudahuvadhoo islands in Dhaalu Atoll. People have been very happy and thankful for the quality of Aid.
We have been amazed at the generosity of so many people in the UK. Many of these donators have been to the Maldives and want to help in any way they can. We have had a team of hundreds of volunteers working every day in the UK sorting and packing the Aid.
2) Has FOM found the Maldivian government helpful in your relief efforts?
The Government of Maldives has co-operated with the Friends of Maldives in the FOM Aid effort. I discussed the crisis with Mr Sobir, the High Commissioner to London, following the Tsunami and we agreed that getting help to the people who needed it was of paramount importance. Our differences should be set aside and should work together to get the job done as quickly as possible. We have maintained cordial relations with the Government of Maldives.
3) Has FOM been working with any other organisations?
Yes we have worked with many organisations in the last two months. Obviously we maintain our contacts with other governments – particularly the Europeans – and we have also established contacts with other NGOs. They have been impressed with how quickly we managed to get FOM aid to the islands and the amount of aid we have managed to bring from the UK. We hope to work more with local NGOs in the Maldives in future.
4) Minister for Trade Abdulla Yameen in his December elections speech insinuated that certain groups, such as FOM, are funded by American Christian missionary groups. Is this true?
No, this is absolute rubbish and he knows it. FOM receives funding from members of the public here in Britain and not from any religious group. I donâ€™t think the British public have any agenda other than to help Maldivian people who wish to be helped. As long as Maldivians continue to want the help of FOM then we will be there. Our aim is only to help the Maldivian people. Perhaps Abdulla Yameen has a different agenda.
5) Does FOM have any connection to religion?
The constant allegation of FOM being Christian Missionaries is getting less and less believable. Anybody who knows the Friends of Maldives knows this is not true. FOM have no desire to convert anyone to any religion. I have great respect for Islam. Iâ€™ve heard some very silly stories being spread by certain members of the regime about FOM volunteers in Maldives handing out crosses and trying to bring pork and alcohol into the country – utter rubbish.
6) What are your connections with the Maldivian Democratic Party?
We have no affiliation with any particular party. We are very hopeful that the government of Maldives continues on its path towards a fully democratic country. We encourage the international community and their respective governments to continue to encourage the Government of Maldives to allow the registration of the Maldivian Democratic Party and to allow freedom of speech and association. We have friends across the political spectrum in the Maldives.
7) Are you still interested in Human Rights?
I started FOM primarily as a Human Rights organisation. We have been encouraged of late by some improvements in the Human Rights situation in the Maldives. However, we continue to be very concerned about the failure of the government to review the imprisonment of Fareed, the Sandhaanu Three and Naushad Waheed. We are also very concerned about the recent imprisonment of Ahmed Falah and Mohamed Fauzi.
FOM will always be concerned with Human Rights in the Maldives. If we feel the Human Rights situation is deteriorating again then we will refocus our efforts on some of our more political work, such as demonstrations, which we know are very embarrassing to the Maldivian government.
8) What are the future plans for FOM?
We will see what Maldivians want from us. We will be led by local community needs. We cannot dictate what people need from us. We will see how people want to be helped and then we will do our best for them.
We are particularly interested in helping with education and health improvement projects in the Maldives, which islanders have said they want our help for. We are now focussed on twinning schools in Maldives with UK schools, to provide long term support.
We also have confirmation that six British fire-fighters will be going to the Maldives during March to help with the FOM Aid distribution. This has achieved widespread media coverage and support in the UK and their flights have been paid for by sponsorship from people in the UK.