Gan RAF reunion prompts scholarship fund

A group of former British Royal Air Force (RAF) servicemen who were based at Gan in the 70s have set up a fund to improve medical care in Addu Atoll, the country’s southern group of islands.

In March this year, 28 ex-personnel who had worked in the atoll returned to Gan for a reunion, where they were saddened by the decline in medical standards since their departure.

Richard Houlston, 62, who spent a year in the early 1970s working in ground communications on the island of Hithadhoo said: “All of us servicemen enjoyed our time in the Maldives, and the feeling among us was that we wanted to give something back to the community. I feel a close affinity to Addu, it was as if I had never left.”

Richard worked on the HF Transmitters on the isle of Hithadhoo, at the far end of the horse-shoe shaped atoll of Addu from November 1969 until 1970. He and his comrades would visit nearby Gan for scuba diving lessons and shopping trips.

“My memories of Hithadhoo were all good,” said Houlston. “I loved the climate, I loved messing about in the boats we had there, I loved fishing and swimming, I spent many hours snorkeling on the reef, I learnt to scuba dive. When I arrived back on Addu my first impressions were that it seems to be more built up now than when I was there, and obviously has some quite well-off inhabitants, but many people seem to be quite poor. Many of the inhabitants still have to rely on rain water for drinking, stored in large tanks and in those sorts of temperatures that can’t be good for health,” he said.

“When we arrived back on Addu, it became obvious to us very quickly that what they needed help with most was medical care. To go to a decent hospital, many locals have to travel all the way to India, which is a 1000 mile-plus journey. There is a hospital on the island of Hithadhoo, but standards there are very poor: even if they have the equipment, no-one has the expertise to use it.”

When the RAF was in Gan, islanders used to enjoy first class medical facilities for free. Now they have third world services and people must pay for their treatment. The 30 year dictatorship and focus on development of Male’ did not help matters.

Now Houlston and Larry Dodds have set up the Gan Scholarship Fund, which aims to raise enough money to help train more medical staff and improve the standard of medical equipment in the atoll.

“The thing that concerns us most is the fact that many inhabitants have to travel to India for decent medical facilities. Addu is so remote that they need their own medical facilities on hand. When the RAF was there they had those facilities, but when we pulled out in 1976 they were left with nothing,” Houlston said.

“I know there were political issues at the time that did not help their situation, but I feel we have a moral obligation to try to help them now if we can. I feel very passionate about this, and I know that many of the guys I was there with in March feel the same way.”

Their idea is to try and raise enough money to pay for the training of one medical student from Addu, so they can then work in the hospital on nearby Hithadhoo. Much of the hospital equipment is also outdated and needs to be replaced.

“The original plan was to appeal to the RAF personnel who had served on Gan over the years to donate money towards the scheme, now I do not now that this is going to be enough, so I am trying to come up with ideas to help supplement this. I am open to suggestions,” Houlston admitted.

Returning to the Addu Atoll a year ago was an emotional journey for the group, who share many fond memories of their time on the island. Houlston said that his time in the Maldives had left a lasting impression on him, and that he and his former colleagues had been touched by the people of Gan’s enthusiasm when they returned.

“We had such a wonderful welcome on the reunion trip to Addu in March of this year, that it rekindled my love for Addu and its people,” he said.

“The RAF had not visited the Maldives for over 30 years, but the reception was incredible. Children from primary schools danced for us, they arranged trips for us, and thousands of people greeted us wherever we went.”

“It was a very moving experience,” he added. Richard is now in daily contact with people from Addu and is working with both Hithadhoo Regional Hospital and the IDMC private hospital, soon to be Hawwa Trust, which will help provide the next generation of medical doctors along with the help of some former friends from the Royal Air Force.

For more information visit ‘Gan Then and Now’ on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_123539864379070

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9 thoughts on “Gan RAF reunion prompts scholarship fund”

  1. I heard that the British are claiming that they have a piece of land in Gan. Is it true?

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  2. after reading the headline i thought they actually have a raised some funds. but reading the following paragraph i realized its just hot air. they dont even know how to raise funds.

    “The original plan was to appeal to the RAF personnel who had served on Gan over the years to donate money towards the scheme, now I do not now that this is going to be enough, so I am trying to come up with ideas to help supplement this. I am open to suggestions,” Houlston admitted.

    my message to mr. houston is; it takes a lot more than training few nurses to improve health care in addu atoll. oh i mean addu city.

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  3. Sad to say,two very dissapointing comments.First--the British have no claim on any land anywhere in the Maldives.Second--Fehurihi,what sort of comment is that to give to some people that are trying to help?.We do have a substantial amount of money which is increasing steadily,but extra fund-raising by different means is also in action..I am guessing that you must be from a northern atoll and therefore anti-addu..I will remind you--when the RAF were on Addu,the adduans had every service available to them for free.The minute the RAF left your government stripped every usefull piece of equipment and took it to Male and left the people of Addu destitute.It is to our[British]eternal shame,that a more supervised handover wasn't undertaken,and this is just one of the reasons why we[the ex-gan airmen]are intent on giving our numerous friends on Addu just a thank you gift in appreciation of our time spent together..You will notice I say ex-gan airmen and adduan friends,,absolutely nothing to do with any/either governments,,just friends and no politics.OK..Larry Dodds RAF Gan 69/70,and proud to have served there..

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  4. hehe. you the keynee runkashi au vaa mr. geordie. i am from addu atoll hithadhoo island koruvalu ward. i am one of those kids who you threw sweets at. remember? the days when you guys visit hithadhoo on your land rovers and threw sweets and nuts at us as if we were monkeys? you ripped apart our country when things didnt go the way you wanted with the sultans government and then abandoned the people of addu and their 'suvadive republic' (which you helped to establish) when you didnt need it any more. (http://www.maldivesroyalfamily.com/maldives_suvadive.shtml) here's a quote from this article "A British soldier actually pushed a box of matches towards a rioter encouraging government facilities to be set ablaze." another one "Following Maradu's capitulation, the British quickly spread the word that only those who were under the sovereign authority of the Sultan of the Maldives would be employed in British facilities." and look at this photo for evidence of how cruel you were http://bit.ly/fIE76U you destroyed our eco system by connecting islands effectively blocking current hence the seaweed in the entire atoll. you may have been welcomed by those who benefited from you when you were in gan but do not expect every maldivian from addu atoll to do the same. even to please them you cannot throw sweets anymore.

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  5. Hi Fehurhi and all others here. Like Larry I spent a lot of time on Gan in the early seventies, and also fell in love with Addu.
    I must admit I cannot remember ever throwing sweets at anyone, if I had got some I would have eaten them myself
    ( lol )
    What Larry is trying to do is exceptional, very few people in the world care about what goes on there, including, from the look of it, your own governmment. I hope to spend some time there next year, perhaps we could meet andyou can tell me all about your past and complaints. Meanwhile I think we will just carry on with the fundraising and see how far we can get !!
    Training one or two people who could make a real difference to life on Addu surely has to be a very good long term aim ?
    Kind regards to all on Addu

    Terry Joint

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  6. Fehurihi,,I think you should tell everyone just what it is you have against the world.Are you ill,are you broke and destitute,or are you just sick of your life as it is.You have nothing but adverse comments on everything and everyone,from me to addu city..Come on and post a comment to explain your dissagreement with everything and why.If its politics or religion then I don't want to know.If its personal reasons then let us know...

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  7. The British when they were stationed On Gan did a lot for the people of Addu.Imagine first class health for free for the whole population of Addu . And many people from Male' getting registered as Adduans also got free health.
    Thank you again . I speak as an adult now. I was a child of ten when the British left. I don't remember sweets being thrown at us.If you did that , thank you for the sweets as well.
    In return for what RAF did, I always support the English team in the World Cup.

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  8. Of course I can only speak of the past and not the present, but my memories of the Adduans are of a very happy people with a really great sense of humour, I remember more than one joke being on me.

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  9. I'm sure that Fehurihi has had some truamatic experience in the past which has made him bitter toward us while the RAF were serving at Gan. It could be that was never quick enough to get to the sweets which were being handed out when he was a child. Maybe he suffered hardship when the forces pulled out in 76 and perhaps someone told him that we were to blame. Whatever the reason I don't believe it is based on what actually happened. So Fehurihi, if you are reading this, if I get a chance to meet you when I return to Addu I hope that you will see us in a different light. We are your friends not your enemies. By the way, I am in the picture at the top of the page sitting in the middle

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