Life changing, world changing

“Why do you even need political parties for democracy?” I asked the sea of black, brown, white and every-shade-in-between students.

We were discussing the rise of far-right political parties in Europe.

“In the Maldives we have a democracy, but we do not have political parties,” I had said. Two years later, in 2006, I sued the government of Maldives for unfair dismissal, and won the country’s first civil rights case.

Attending Mahindra United World College of India (MUWCI) changed my life. Fresh out of Aminiya School at sixteen I longed for adventure and MUWCI, located in the hills of Pune, Maharashtra, turned out to be the biggest adventure of my life.

MUWCI is one of the thirteen United World Colleges (UWC) which makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. Students from over 120 countries are selected purely on merit through UWC national committees.

At MUWCI, I shared my room with girls from India, Russia, Canada and Swaziland. I volunteered at an HIV positive children’s home on Wednesdays, did yoga on Mondays and painted schools in the Mulshi valley. One Saturday, my friends and I built a raft from plastic bottles and sailed down the Mulshi River.

I spent ten days in Tamil Nadu clearing fields and cleaning fishermen’s nets after the Tsunami. In 2005, ten of us went to Kashmir in Pakistan for earth quake relief at a medical camp for a month.

And of course cramming for the two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma; one of the most well regarded and widely known secondary school qualifications in the world.

Maurifa Hassan remembers studying for the IB from the castle-roof of UWC-USA located in the state of New Mexico: “If New Mexico and Maldives have anything in common, it’s the dramatic sunsets. We would attempt to study, but get distracted by the breathtaking scenery and our endless stories that start with the phrase ‘iin my culture’.”

UWC Scholarships are unprecedented and unparalleled in the Maldives. The Ali Fulhu Thuttu Foundation (AFTF) has provided scholarships to 26 Maldivian students to India, America, Canada, Italy, England, Norway and Bosnia. Founded in 2001, the AFTF provides 2-5 scholarships per year for students who have completed GCSE O’Levels.

Theema Mohamed, the first Maldivian student to attend UWC in Norway said, “Many of my community members were shocked that my parents were letting me go to a country that was very far away and of which they knew little about especially since I was a girl and quite young at the time.”

UWC “really felt like home,” Theema says. “I felt free to express my opinions and be who I wanted to be. I found my voice in UWC and I am thankful for the space that UWC provided for me to grow into the person that I am today.”

She currently works for the AFTF to provide grants to support various youth development projects in rural Maldives.

For Ali Shareef, his UWC experience taught him to deconstruct racial and cultural barriers and prejudices.

“People became much more interesting and relatable once I learnt to look beyond the label of Muslim, Christian, Hindu, black, white, female, male, rich or poor,” he says.

Twenty-three Maldivian UWC graduates have now gone onto to pursue higher education in respected universities in America, Canada and Australia and continue to contribute to the country at different levels of society.

Aminath Shauna graduated from Canada’s Lester B. Pearson UWC and went onto do her bachelor’s degree in politics, environment and economics. When she returned to Maldives in 2008, she worked as a journalist during the Maldives’ first multi-party elections and now works for President Mohamed Nasheed.

“UWC has given me a completely different worldview; to expand my horizons beyond that of the island and the atoll,” Shauna says. “I learnt the value of democracy and dialogue and I learnt that in order to change the world, you have to start with your own backyard.”

Fathimath Musthaq currently works in NGO Transparency Maldives and wants to establish a university in the country after her finishing her post-graduate studies.

“I believe liberal education is essential for a progressive and liberal society. Attending UWC in England taught me the values of tolerance and diversity and I want to inculcate those values in Maldivian society, especially given its homogenous nature.”

Zaheena Rasheed attended the Mahindra United World College of India on a Ali Fulhu Thuttu Foundation scholarship. Scholarships are now open in 2010 for students who have completed their IGCSE, GCSE and SSC exams in 2009. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to represent Maldives at one of the following United World Colleges (UWC): India, Norway, Italy, Canada and USA. Applications forms can be obtained at the AFTF office and at Deadline for application is 2:30 pm on 15 February 2010.


9 thoughts on “Life changing, world changing”

  1. Zaheena – I know I’m putting this out there… but Congratulations on your Engagement! 🙂
    Shauna – Happy Birthday.

    Zaheena, Maurifa, Shauna, Fathimath and the numerous other young Maldivians who’re lucky enough to go to the United World Colleges get to experience not just academic fulfillment, but a more rounded and wholesome education that teaches students to become caring and conscious citizens.

    The International Baccalaureate Diploma is not offered in Maldives, and will not be in the near future because of the stress placed on A’Levels and the British based form of education. Also because the training needed for teaches is simply beyond either the capabilities or the will of the education ministry to achieve. We need to start looking outside the box when it comes to education and youth development.

    The AFTF is literally creating the nation’s future leaders. Everyone should apply. But because so few will be given the opportunity for advancement, progress needs to be made to extend this opportunity to the greater youth community as well.

  2. what would maldives be like today if Fareed, Bari and them had attended UWC rather than their religious schools in pakistan and saudi?

  3. on a day a state minister was allegedly caught drunk with two girls (of half his age) in a hotel room, a private television being asked to stop telecasting live coverage of an anti government protest, president announcing civil service wages to be reinstated in april, ... is this your top news? INDEPENDENT NEWS THE FROM MALDIVES, eh?

  4. ok .. what have you guys done for the country? now that most of you guys are working with the president, is that the reason why you journalism skilled vanished? tell to president don't keep sutpid people in his government, cause the dictators opposition will do anything to create panic in this country, please tell president to get away with some filthy people,

  5. i agree with Thun Bibee, whats become of Minivan News these days? Feature articles and headline stories seem to be prioritised wrongly.

    Also, most of the articles seem to be sensationalised lately, especially the headlines! It looks like there is an increase in the journalists' opinions being filtered through on many of the recent articles, rather than providing non-biased coverage.

  6. We are hoping to get a lot of applications this year. Especially from the islands. Please call 7716107 if you have questions. The application can be downloaded here:

  7. seriously, minivan? this is disappointing. this bimbo drivel is on front page?? at a time when we have new serious issues emerging everyday, this is what you think is news worthy? as an ardent fan of this government, would really like to know more from the government's side of things as haveeru, dhitv, dhifm, vtv, you name it are spinning such ridiculous propaganda against the government. would be good if minivan can get to the truth and expose things as they are, objectively. and please, spare us this 'life changing' gibberish.

  8. i like to congratulate all the graduands from United World Colleges
    good report.. i believe minivan news is doing a grt job, they do provide the most recent n important news day to day... n its not necessary for every media to go against the government or just be with the government or just to satisfy a group of ppl or a party .. its up to them to decide what they want to write or there opinion.. this is what we call free media.. keep up the good work...

  9. thats the problem here in most part of maldives, women are supposed to be bimbo's even when they actually have brains and are so capable...

    @Ayesha - agree with you totally!


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