“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 www.mv.uwc.org. Deadline for application is 2:30 pm on 15 February 2010.