Kudakudhinge Hiya, a temporary shelter for children in Vilingili managed by the Ministry of Health and Family, has been short-staffed “for months,” says Community Health Officer Iyaz Jadulla Naseem.
Iyaz has said he is “very concerned” over the staff shortage in the shelter. “There is a lack of staff,” Iyaz said, “and in the current structure, cooks and labourers’ jobs have been removed from the civil service.”
“We asked the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for a new cook, but they said they can’t send another person because these jobs have been removed [from the civil service].”
Iyaz added that the children’s home is being “treated like a government office,” and the commission has said that a government office has no need for a cook.
“We are not a government office,” Iyaz said, “but this is how they deal with us.”
The home, which has a capacity for 45 children, is currently catering for 51.
They had four registered cooks, but one resigned recently. “Another cook is on leave, so we only have two cooks right now,” Iyaz said.
The cooking shifts are shared, he explained, “but we still have to cook three times a day for the children. Imagine one person cooking for 51 children.”
“Three days ago there was no one to cook the morning shift,” Iyaz said, “so we had to call the afternoon cook to come in the morning as well.”
He said this “lowers the quality of the food, and one person cannot concentrate for that long.”
Additionally, it means there is only one menu being prepared for all the children.
“We have five month-old babies and ten year-old children eating the same food. We need at least three or four cooks,” Iyaz said.
He said the Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) had said they would go to the CSC to deal with the issue urgently.
Staff at Kudakudhinge Hiya have also spoken to the Ministry of Health and Family, who are “cooperating,” and Iyaz noted that Deputy Minister Mariya Ali “has been very helpful. But they can’t help until the CSC creates these jobs again.”
There had also been reports of several of the children being sick and sent to Indhira Ghandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). “It wasn’t a big outbreak,” Iyaz said, “some vomiting and diarrhoea.”
He said twelve children were sick and “the Food and Drug authority came here to see see if it was food poisoning, but they didn’t think so because only a few children were affected.”
He added the doctors said it was a viral infection.
“Two of the children were admitted to IGMH,” he said, “and one child is still feeling weak but she’s getting better.”
Iyaz said the home is taking the issues to their superiors.
Recently appointed Director of the home confirmed there are four registered cooks, “but one resigned and one is on leave.”
“It is very difficult for one person to cook for all the children,” he said, noting that they are “trying our best and have reported to the Gender Department.”
Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali said the biggest problem at Kudakudhinge Hiya is “they don’t have enough staff.”
She said the ministry have recently hired staff and is communicating with the CSC to provide them with new cooks. They are also trying to bring back volunteers.
Mariya said although volunteers had not been able to go for a couple of months, the volunteer programme “is back on track.” She noted that “we have received help from a number of corporate sectors.”
She said the ministry had been trying to pass laws based on guidelines and regulations for children’s homes since 2007, “but they have just been going back and forth from the Attorney General’s office.”
“The costing for regulations to be implemented is being processed,” Mariya explained, noting that the regulations would include clauses on staff to child ratios, staff standards and etiquette, visitation procedures, and general criteria for the institution.
“We will send the guidelines to the AG this week,” she said, “then they will be sent to Parliament. It is very important to maintain children’s homes at a high standard.”
Mariya said that the most important thing was to reduce numbers in children’s homes and improve the criteria of admission.
She added that the Ministry of Health and Family is waiting to sign an MoU with English charity for children, Barnardo’s, for staff “to go to England to learn how to manage children’s institutions.”
Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the government’s plan to restructure the civil service meant there are new considerations for hiring a cook, as there were over 150 cooks in the civil service.
Zuhair said several ministries had been employing cooks and some offices in the health sector, for instance, would have a cook but not a nurse.
“But this is a special area,” he said, “there are special considerations. I’m sure the government will give special consideration to this case.”