Lale English teacher resorted to begging, sleeping in fishmarket

When English teacher John Campbell accepted a job at Lale Youth International School two years ago, he had no idea he would be leaving the country with scarcely more than the shirt on his back and an expatriate horror story far removed from the picturesque experience of a resort worker.

At one stage in December 2010, penniless, starving, robbed, waiting for the school to pay his remaining salary and unable to get a response from any authorities, he was forced to sleep in the capital’s fish market for seven nights before being rescued by an immigration official.

At night, Campbell would sit in the doorways of shops and read by the light through the windows. Famished, he eventually resorted to begging outside Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

“It was my first experience of begging,” says the Australian national, who has 10 years experience as an English teacher and a wife who currently lives in Thailand.

“I hadn’t eaten for six days, but people gave me enough for a coffee. The humiliation was better than starving, but it was not something I want to repeat.”

He was eventually found by an immigration official and taken to the immigration lock-up, where he was fed and allowed to come and go as he pleased. Later, he was moved to another building that was being refurbished –

“I don’t think it was official,” he says, praising the department worker for the help he received.

Campbell says his problems began when the Turkish-run international school failed to pay him one month’s salary on completion of his contract. He claimed that the school also required foreign staff to initially pay a US$1200 “passport deposit”.

“The school didn’t want to pay the end of my contract. I had a flight on November 16, 2010, and they made an offer of US$300 but only if I signed a statement agreeing to make no further claims against the school.”

It was common practice, Campbell said, to give departing teachers a cheque in rufiya shortly before their departure, knowing they would be unable to change the money – and then offer a significantly lower amount of dollars.

Unlike other teachers Minivan News spoke to, Campbell took the cheque, “but the bank would not change the money.”

He left the country and flew to Thailand to visit his wife, and attempted to change the cheque there. Banks were uninterested and the best “unofficial” rate he could get was Rf 40 to the dollar – more than three times the pegged rate of Rf 12.85. He changed enough to survive, and returned to the Maldives to pursue his remaining salary.

Prior to leaving he had sought to press his case with assorted authorities in Male’, particularly the Education Ministry and the Labour Department.

“Five emails to the Labour Ministry and two handwritten letters delivered personally, but they refused to acknowledge that any letters had been received,” he said. “I even tried writing letters to the President’s Office.”

Unable to penetrate the Maldives byzantine bureaucracy and without the contacts to do so, Campbell met a Maldivian man who agreed to help him in exchange for Rf 500 a week. When Campbell visited Thailand on conclusion of his contract, the man also arranged for the storage of his possessions.

When he returned to continue pressing his case, “I discovered that he had taken everything I had. My clothes, shoes, paperwork, sound system, surfboard, tools, materials, fittings – everything I owned apart from my boat.”

The small hand-made sailing vessel was Campbell’s hobby during his spare time in the Maldives, and was made from 90 percent recycled materials.

“I’ve been boat building since I was a little kid, I built the first when I was 11 years old – the first that was big enough to use. In high school, I would buy boats that had been written off and restore them to resell. Then I started making surfboards – it was good money.”

His aim was go on weekend sailing trips to local surf spots – although he adds that the real enjoyment was the relaxing focus of constructing it.

“I had finished it the day before I left [to Thailand]. I left it on the shore near the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal, after towing it up the beach and tying it up. Two weeks later, I found it a few hundred metres from the ferry terminal, smashed to pieces on the rocks and stripped of all steel fittings.”

After his possessions were stolen Campbell went to police and gave the name, home address and two telephone numbers of the man he claimed had taken everything he owned. Nothing happened – “at least 20 people told me they’ve seen him around Hulhumale’.”

“It felt like I was seen as an acceptable target. I lost everything – for the first 14 days all I had was a ticket back to Australia.”

Unwilling to give up on his possessions or the money owed him by the school, Campbell sought a refund for the ticket from the Malaysian airlines office.

That money lasted two weeks, “and then I had nowhere to sleep, no support, and nothing happening [with my case].”

Unwilling to exploit the hospitality of his hosts at a local guest house without being able to pay them back, he moved onto the streets.

“I had no money left to pay for the hotel, and while they would have let me stay I didn’t want to rack up a debt I couldn’t pay,” he said.

Lale Youth International was not responding to calls when Minivan News called to corroborate Campbell’s story, and Biz Atoll, the Maldivian company that holds the agreement to run the school in conjunction with the Turkish group, requested Minivan News to call back later and then did not answer the phone.

However, a source familiar with the school and its employment of foreign staff told Minivan News that the Campbell’s treatment was not unusual.

“In one year, the contract was changed 2-3 times. The school was supposed to pay one month’s salary after completion of one year, but it seems they were not willing to do that,” the source said.

“They did it to a Sri Lankan boy who worked there – he begged for his salary in dollars, before leaving to Sri Lanka, and they made him buy it from them at a rate of Rf 14. He paid because he had to.”

Campbell, the source attested, “was a very good teacher” – and one of the last native-English speakers to leave the school.

“There were problems in the contract that worked to the advantage of the school,” Campbell says, “such as clauses that said in the event of any contention between staff and the employer, the employer’s opinion counted. Anyone who could read English would understand the contract was untenable.”

Campbell’s sister eventually paid for his flight out of the country.

“Why not the thief’s family?” he told Minivan News, from Thailand. “It seems I’ve made a large donation to the Maldives economy. I had to make a citizens arrest of the thief because the Hulhumale’ police couldn’t find him after six weeks of looking. I had to re-seize my property by myself because they were too busy at 6:00am in the morning to accompany me. I retrieved about 25 percent of it, but not the money stolen as well. Afterwards they were very keen to get me out of the country.”

“All the difficulties were created by the school’s refusal to pay on time, and having to stay and fight them then return and fight again, with no one holding them accountable – Maldives government departments are the worst case of ‘jobs for the boys’. It cost me more than anything, and I’m left in debt after two years.”

Minivan News reported on Lale Youth International School in May last year, after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) launched an investigation into claims children were being abused.

Later that year, the Criminal Court found the former principal, Turkish national Serkan Akar, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.

Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt.

After the sentencing and the release of the HRCM report, the government briefly discussed repossessing the school from the Turkish consortium.

Former Education Minister Mustafa Luthfy told Minivan News that the government eventually decided “to continue with the Turkish group, following certain amendments to the agreement and proposed changes. They brought in some changes, but they still need to do more.”
Addendum: Following publication of this article, Principal of Lale Youth International School Mehmet Akif sent Minivan News a letter in which he claimed that the school had fulfilled its contractual obligations to John Campbell. The letter has been published in accordance with the school’s right-of-reply.

77 thoughts on “Lale English teacher resorted to begging, sleeping in fishmarket”

  1. Injustice in any form is not right.
    It is not right for Lale or who ever it was to treat this gentleman so unjustly.

    Also it is not proper for the government not to give him a proper reply as to what he should do next, should the government feel and see that it is not their business!

    Police in any case should have looked into the matter and resolved the problem some how!

    However @lale student's comment is stunning and partly edible!

    So where is justice done in all cases?
    And who should be complaining?

  2. I am not a Maldivian.........thank God.........and the story of John Campbell makes me squirm with unease and discomfort. Maldives clearly does not have the resources to recruit teachers from the first world. Next time your schools have vacancies, get your teachers from Pakistan. A collective kick in the butt for your Education Ministry for allowing this to happen and a pat on the back for the unnamed Immigration Officer.

  3. In a small country like Maldives, even an individual can be as powerful as an institution. Even play a role of a powerful institution all by him/herself. This is what makes small countries unique.

    Minivannews has now become a national institution that goes along the whims and fancies of few people and not along the interests of the readership...

    Let me remind that with great power comes great responsibilities

  4. I have heard that he was not teaching for a while, but i didn't know it was this bad.
    I agree with him being a good teacher and at that time I think he was one of the only few teachers to speak fluent english.
    @Happy Infidel: I believe Pakistan teachers also beat their students and it wont be much better than this.

  5. @lale student's comment is TRUE. Ask his students while he was working there. Apparently he was a beggar in his own country as well. Maybe not from poverty but lunacy.

    Somebody should question the mandate of MINIVANNEWS. To me, it seems it is about degrading our us. Many a Maldivians had done harmful things in the past but as a whole Maldivians are not what MINIVANNEWS has been trying to sell us as.

  6. jhon is the worst teacher in school.makin boat at class periods.and showing us naked womans in movies.shamra

  7. I would like to hear this story from you by looking into my eye ,Mr.Robinson you better find another job instead of dealing with nonsense scenarios .Stop deceiving people ,every maldivian knows that why you are here and serving for which purposes .Our existence here will cause many troubles for you and like you people for sure eventhough we don't have anything else but love and tolerance...I have no worries people will believe in our sincerety and school will achieve the results expected ,it only requires time and I'm glad Maldivians are patient enough for that ...Thanks...

  8. Although lale is showing improvements this year, proper scrutiny by education is important.

    Pre school teachers are working from 7.45 am till 4.30 at a strach without any break

    School book list for preschool was surprising...more than 2000 rufiya charged for what? the stuff shown in the list if purchased individually would cost less that 300 rufiya

    school managment is not doing a serious job about running the school. Their efforts are so minimal one questions whether this is the real thing or a front for something else.

    Min of Education cant be bothered about the school. they are happy to pay 2.5 milion rufiya as rent from public purse to HDC for the benifit of WHO? the school has only around 200 students

  9. i don't know the truth or the lie behind this but indeed i'm shocked... i'm a Lale student... and i don't like to accept theories... infect i hate it....
    anyway... i wont say Mr.John was a "very" good teacher... but he was a teacher and taught me a few things... its true he showed us some movies and it is true that he didn't believe in any religion but it doesn't anything to do with any of this..... I myself am very shocked about this... i don't know anything to say because i don't know the truth.... so... i donno..... and i dont like taking bad about people if i dont know them.... So... Mr. John be a good man in the future...

  10. I used to be a student of Mr.John's last year, and i can say with absolute confidence that he was NOT a good teacher. He shows up to work in a dirty old T-shirt and bandanna, and without even making the least bit effort to teach us, writes some stuff on the board, sits down and starts reading a book. Either that or he puts on a movie and sits down, and starts reading a book.

    I asked the management the truth about the Mr.John's salary, and it seems that even though his contract with the school ended at 16th November, he was demanding for the the salary for the month of December, not having even worked for the month.

    And in addition to this, he demanded that the school compensate for a small accident that left his arm broken (which also i believe was from his own carelessness) for the price of US$ 1 Mil. (<-- A little too much don't you think?)

    Also, i would like to (tsk tsk) at the poor work of the journalist who did this article. JJ. Robinson's poor investigation (if there was any) into this matter, and the fact that each of the articles on Lale' in MINIVAN (each of which also contributes to tarnishing the school's reputation a lot, AND based on exaggerated facts)was written by JJ. Robinson, really makes me think that he has something against this school.

    - Yours Truly.
    Lale' Youth Student(s) of Gr.9

  11. We should not be surprise to find out later that Mr, John does not have any teaching qualification at all. The school employed him because he is a white man and it can attract more students. You may ask the school to show his qualification.

    From my years of experience, no qualify "white" teacher willing to come to a third world nation for such a low salary, he can earn 4-6 times more in his home country. Unless, the person loves traveling, escaping from problem, passionate in teaching, with hidden agenda or can not find a job back home.

    @lale student,
    I will believe you are real Lale student if you did not write:
    "This guy has told us that after his departure he will destroy the name of the school as deputy principal has rejected his request for the extension of contract."

    I do not know the truth but the fact is that my foreign friend has withdrew his children from the school and such a big campus with only 200 students??...I can guess what is the truth.

    Good Luck!

  12. he is the WORST teacher! how can we learn english by watching the same movie over and over again everyday? and he gives pages from the workbook for exam. -.-
    - yours truly
    Lale' youth student

  13. this is just sad..... im ashamed to see this even.... its sad that no actions were taken.... im just shocked to see that somthing like this would happen in our maldivess..... this is just sad

  14. stop spreading bad rumors about lale'.
    i was in the school last year and everyone there was really kind.

  15. All single minded Maldivian's, please work in other countries and get to know how they treat with you.
    Try to know the world better and people too.
    Experience the school yourself and find how many teachers had same kind of problems.
    i know the whole story very well and i wish non of the Maldivian experience it in foreign country.

    Feel sorry for john for unexpected experience in Maldives.
    Feel sorry for the school, that the public knows what you military Turkish people really are..!! 🙂

    Good job JJ. 🙂

  16. last word....
    The consequences of my misfortune having to deal with inept, criminal management at LALE SCHOOL are dire enough but the repercussions for the MALDIVES as a whole are truly woeful. Your Police are lazy, unable and unwilling to either enforce the law or arrest offenders. They have no interest in recovery of stolen property. The Dept. Labour is unable to ensure schools write legal, workable contracts and likewise unwilling to enforce them. The Education Dept. has no control over the quality or fitness for duty of foreign School Management and proved themselves truly ignorant in not responding to any communications. As did the office of the President, on fact, all Government depts.. I dealt with – or tried to – remained ignorant to communications delivered by any method – even to hand-written, personally delivered letters.
    The issues of major concern are:-
    1/ Parents are forcing their children to attend schools that offer NO insurance protection against accident / injury.
    2/ There are NO facilities to assist foreigners in the MALDIVES who do not have a consular representative or Embassy.
    3/ There are NO avenues of redress to aid anyone who is a victim of crime in the MALDIVES.
    The ONLY people who come out of my experience are the Dept. Immigration. All credit to them! ! !
    If this is an example of your first attempt at Democracy, it is an abject failure and bodes worse than ill for the future.

  17. there are some glaring errors and incorrect assumptions in the comments.......... j

  18. Please do not forget that Maldives still is a 3rd world country concerning bureaucracy after all. If such problems need to be solved, these people do not know how to take responsibility and actions, how to WORK TOGETHER as a team (even in some very high sections of the government). Everything apart from their own regular work is very difficult for them to understand as a big picture, especially to understand how to not do it again and prevent such mistakes and missing communication in general, how to become "better" for an international standard. Even the human rights department needs to work and try extremely hard to finally achieve anything they fight for in this country.

    International teachers/workers are not more than guests here. But I guess Mr. Campbell might think now that his treatment was far from being treated like any "guest". Foreigners shouldn't expect more from such companies and they shouldn't even try to "make it better", they won't succeed, I am sorry, not in such little time. And apart from that it is not "our" right to change a nation just because we as aliens feel uncomfortable with certain regulations. I know that, I have been living here since almost 10 years. I love the country but don't really like the people in general. As a foreigner from the 1st world you should come here to see and explore the beauty of Maldives in the first place, not to work at a school you have probably never heard of or company that is apparently characterized by instability, illegal actions such as the "we-will-keep-your-passport"-story (sure - if my school was that bad I would be afraid of loosing my new staff right away too, so let's keep their passports as insurence!) and mistrust (or how come that even pupils were well informed by the school's administration about their teachers salary?? That's really funny! Oh my word, how embarrasing! Far from any international standard).
    But anyway, after all this is about right and wrong behaviour.

    First of all, how bad must that be for the poor students and parents who pour much money into a school that is supposed to make a difference? Well, it seems it does, but the wrong way.
    Many Maldivian parents came into my office and assured me that "... this school is worse than our government schools. So unorganized! And the only statement I got from the school was: Don't worry, a certain chaos is standard everywhere in Maldives." Awesome attitude to run a professional business, over years.

    Yes, Lale International is still young and international schools probably need much time to establish their cooperation with Maldivian laws and regulations, but that should never be an excuse or reason for such problems Mr. Campbell finally went through. Of course, as the question, so the answer. And certainly Lale school is not to burden with the entire guilt since it was the immigration department's fault to let him into this country (although his contract or visa was supposed to be invalid/cancelled already). But I wonder how many times Mr. Campbell was forced to ask again and again and again to finally got attention or any answer from those people in charge of his salary. How supportive was his former employer really concerning this matter? I am certain that many former teachers of Lale might have the answer.

    It's simply about attitude. If all the articles about Lale of the past years/months have at least a little bit of verity between the lines, you will probably realize that such schools didn't come here for educational reasons in the first place. Poor kids! Poor parents! Think about why those schools really came here...
    After all the school didn't have a (for an international standard!) proper contract and had to face enormous problems concerning how to treat human beings correctly, or "normally", with dignity. And Mr. Campbell is not the only teacher who had to face problems with the school, but he is one of the few who went public with it. Most teachers probably think "soon it will be over". Because of this, even the head of Biz Atoll still thinks that his Lale teachers are and always have been happy with their employer. But how should he know what is really going on at Lale if his own employees/principals do not inform/keep information from him such as verbal contracts with the staff or other "fraudulent changes"?
    If I as a manager found out about mistrust among my own staff, I would surely try to get rid of such problems or certain people who cause damage to the well-being of my company. Or is mistrust something teachers here in Maldives should teach to the students? i guess not, so why is Biz Atoll fine with it? As a company that "cooperates" with an educational institution?

    Or what else might be the reason why all of the foreign teachers left Lale, one by one, some even after only a few weeks after discovering the huge lack of international standards for such a school? When will the next (foreign) teacher leave and why?

    It actually is very simple to understand that the better you treat your staff of your school (or any company), the better the results and ambitions will be. And the students (still) can sense their teacher's happiness more than we can imagine. And I am not talking about money in the first place (teachers never become teachers because of their high salary, haha!).
    The kids will profit from that, the society will profit from their own kids... and so on. And why? Because the teachers/staff can concentrate on what is really important - the kids!!! And not on problems like still unprepared school programmes and ceremonies, finding excuses for the parents because of the missing principals who didn't show up on time for an opening speech (how embarrasing and unprofessional) or waiting for hours (no joke!!) for your salary so you can run (no joke either!!) to the bank to finally receive what you worked for (in rufiyaa of course!) before you leave the country for an example. And for a teacher the students should always have priority, that's clear as daylight! So it's the school's job to encourage and support their teachers. Yes, I know it's nothing new and very easy to understand, but it seems some people have never heard of this idea...

    So, very simple, but it's hard to "give in" and invest "your" money into a human being these days. Rather buy something nice for myself like the new iPhone so i can send a "personal" message even more easily to my staff members to "please" come and join a spontaneous meeting this weekend after a devestating week of work. Yes, that's the treatment one can wish for! Thank you so much!

    Mr. Campbell's experience with Lale is only 1 example for what can happen to a foreign teacher who puts too much trust and expectations into such a company that is not willing to give in and continuously doesn't learn from unprofessional behaviour.
    But sure, why should a school or any company here pour much money into foreign people if they will leave after a certain time anyway? Great attitude! And it seems to work. But since even the parents got upset with the school's behaviour many times last year...

    So, to all the teachers who are planning to come here as a teacher: You should not fight the school because you can't fight the system in the end (is there a "system"?), as you can see when you read Mr. Campbell's story. No matter to what high positions within the government you might get with your claims. In the end even they do not and don't know how to care enough. The schools here for a 1st world teacher are very "different" (most foreign people might simply say "shit"). You won't find the "right" attitude in "international" schools, not yet. The best and only really good thing about it are the great kids!! Take it or leave it!

    Will Lale ever learn and achieve a higher level of professionalism? I'm waiting for the next Lale news, agog with expectation...

  19. this big lie. Minivan seriously are you guys gone nuts. If you are so "minivan or not bias" you should have asked him whether he was on tourist visa or work visa. He was given his ticket back Australia on request of labour relation authority of Maldives by lale international school on December

  20. As a previous teacher at LYIS, I can say with confidence that practices aren't what they should be within the school administration. What happened to John is exactly the reason that we left when we did, we had seen lie after lie and didn't trust the school to keep their word, even if it was written in ink. We were burned very badly by LYIS administration and would never return to work their, nor recommend another foreigner to teach there.
    I do have to say though, my opinion is only a poor one of Turkish and I have no desire to ever enter the land of Turkey as a result. As for the Maldivian people, they were the sweetest people I have ever met!! I loved the people, the culture, the life, the warm acceptance of the children and their parents. Although I don't miss dealing with the administration of LYIS, I sincerely miss my students and their families. Not 1 day goes by that I don't think about someone I know from the Maldives or an experience I had in the Maldives. It was a wonderful place full of beauty in so many ways. I hope to return one day to visit the Maldivians who made our stay in Maldives such a wonderful experience!! I pray though that the government will take back LALE and make it a real school.

  21. Hi minivian news I read most of yr news it's all gossip like a u heard from some grandma n print news now u r showing this poor teacher with him happen tragedy unfair but there r comment from school which one of u pple have to believe pls do check on this good n write all the thrut not gossip I m forieghener too here in Maldives already 4 years I'm still I didn't see with my own eyes any bad local person or nobody was rud to me bad pple have in every country yes it's thrue Maldives having not good time speasialy with youths but I don't think that teacher was angel if I was treated like this at that time I would go police n ask to deport sent back if he had go right place shire gourmet will help n sent him back I think he was enjoying he's life here n don't wanted go back when he's money end he create all this drama

  22. That is what you get when you go to work for a Turkish School operated by followers of Imam Fethullah Gulen.

  23. If any of you is a muslim you should know what allah has told us!
    No one should be mistreated on what religion they are, and we are to respect others religions without disrespecting them..
    We are only to gently tell them what religion Is right and wrong!
    We not supposed to robb them or harm them in any way..
    The days of jihaadh are over, now it's modernized!!


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