Four runaway girls from orphanage handed to Gender Ministry

Four girls who ran away from Villingili orphanage – ‘Kudakudhinge Hiya’ – have been found and were handed over to the Ministry of Health and Gender on Tuesday, police have confirmed.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, the ministry had previously revealed that the biggest problem at the orphanage was that the elderly children were not allowed to spend time outdoors.

In March last year police returned seven children who were found on a small vessel in the lagoon near Villimalé.

A further two girls were detained by the police in January 2013 after reportedly running away from the orphanage. The girls were held in Maafushi prison, prompting the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to call for their immediate release.


World Bank approves US$10 million education grant to halt decline in higher secondary enrollment

The World Bank has approved a US$10 million grant to the Maldivian government to expand and strengthen the education system.

In a statement, the World Bank noted that the country’s education system faced key challenges including a “sharp drop” in enrollment at higher secondary level.

“The higher secondary education net enrollment rate is a mere 19 percent, with boys’ net enrollment at 20 percent and girls’ net enrollment at 19 percent,” the World Bank stated.

“It is important that the education development program also addresses the quality of education through several strategic initiatives. In this regard, the project will support the development of a system of regular National Assessments of Learning Outcomes, which can inform policy formulation and program development” said World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Diarietou Gaye.

The US$10 million project will include professional development for teachers and a quality assurance program at school level.

“School-based management activities and the annual school feedback form (ASFF) program will be also implemented at the school level,” the statement read.

“The school heads and senior management teams will be responsible for the organisation and management of these activities. The principals and senior management teams will lead the internal self-evaluations of the quality assurance process. They will also lead the needs assessments of teacher skills and competencies in relation to the school development plans, and organise the professional development programs required. The school heads and senior management teams will also be responsible for implementing the ASFF program,” the World Bank stated.

The Maldives has 220 public schools spread across the country’s 200 inhabited islands, with 6000 teachers serving a 62,000 students. Approximately 1700 students attend private schools.

In a statement. President Mohamed Waheed meanwhile observed that many schools in the Maldives had very small student populations, “an issue of great concern for the nation.”

Speaking during a visit to Maduvvari on Meemu Atoll, Waheed said the average number of students per classroom was 3-4, and that in some schools the entire student body consisted of no more than eight.

Given the state of these schools, “a lot of very urgent reform measures are needed to improve teaching techniques and obtain better results,” the statement read.

System in crisis

The O’Level pass rate in the Maldives has steadily increased from 27 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2011. Beyond a general claim that the O’Level pass rate for 2012 was the “highest on record”, the Education Ministry has so far withheld the figures for 2012, citing “difficulties in analysis”.

Education leaders have repeatedly highlighted as one of the country’s greatest social challenges that fact that two-thirds of students leave the education system at age 16, with little possibility of employment until they reach 18,

Outside the rare apprenticeship program offered by the resort industry – such as one run for more than 10 years by the Four Seasons group – the Maldives has little in the way of vocational training programs.

With the large trade and construction sectors dominated by a massive and poorly-paid imported workforce, options for young Maldivians are extremely limited, especially if isolated on an island in a remote part of the country.

Young Maldivian women face further challenges, as they are largely excluded from the country’s largest employer – the fishing industry – and despite the opportunities, few work in the resort industry due to persistent social stigma.

In a 2011 report on the issue, one father told Minivan News: “If my daughter would not have the possibility of going home every night, I would not let her work in the resort, it is not safe […] if a woman will not come home at night after work, and she would maybe have a relationship with a man in the resort, which could result in a pregnancy… this would have very bad impact on the family and would not be tolerated.”

More recently, Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Regional Vice President and General Manager, Armando Kraenzlin told Minivan News that the number of females in the company’s apprenticeship program had declined over the last 10 years, to just two in the 2014 intake.

“We never had many [female] participants – five to seven per batch – but it used to be easier [to recruit women] about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, numbers have dropped,” he said, at the program’s class of 2013 graduation.

Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed said the prospect of their female children living and working on a resort was a difficult concept for parents.

“The culture here is for children to grow up and grow old in same house. In the Maldives, you go to work [at a resort] and live there. It’s a very difficult thing to get your head around,” he said.

Ahmed explained the need for women and parents to be more aware about the conditions of female employees working at resorts, particularly in terms of accommodation arrangements.

“It is important parents buy into this and believe resort work is beneficial and reliable [for their daughters]. The other challenge is we have to provide child care and other facilities that will release the women to go and work,” he added.


Lithuanian company reveals plans to open ‘Island of Blondes’ in the Maldives

A Lithuanian company has unveiled plans to build an ‘Island of Blondes’ in the Maldives, a resort it claims will be staffed exclusively with “beautiful blonde young women”, featuring “entertainments”, spa centres and an education centre “which will teach female guests to always be perfect and look great.”

The resort will be constructed under the Lithuanian brand Olialia, managed by the small European country’s largest newspaper, Vakaro Žinios. The company also operates a pizzeria, payment card, limo and bus service, and sells ice-cream, soft drinks, chips, and computers decorated with Swarovski crystals, and runs parties at popular Lithuanian nightclubs.

Local tourism industry website Maldives Traveller revealed that the project was expected to open in 2015 and would be funded by investors from Lithuania, Russia, UK, Germany, United Arab Emirates and an undisclosed Maldivian travel company.

In an interview with Maldives Traveller, Olialia’s Giedre Pukiene told the website that the company was already in negotiations “with the owners of several atolls, who are ready to cooperate in the creation of the island of blondes.”

The working title of the resort is to be ‘Olialia Paradise’, Pukiene told Maldives Traveller, but noted that this was subject to change.

The project will also include the creation of an airline and yacht service for visitors to the island, both staffed exclusively by blondes.

“The pilots and stewardesses on the planes will also be blonde only,” Pukiene confirmed.

On paper, the project is likely to encounter logistical difficulties. Resorts in the Maldives are obligated to employ at least 50 percent Maldivian staff who naturally have dark hair. Olialia has not revealed whether local staff will be required to use bleach.

State Minister of Tourism Mamduh Waheed said he was unaware of the proposed project, but noted that the Ministry of Tourism had no involvement in negotiations between operators and leaseholders.

“The Ministry officially has no role to play in negotiations, and I think it would be out of line for us to do so, but we certainly facilitate and assist those operators seeking to acquire property,” Mamduh explained.

If it goes ahead, the project would take the country’s tourism industry in a different direction to that proposed in May by visiting Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik, who noted that investing in a resort profiting from the sale of alcohol was already technically haram (prohibited), and recommended the country encourage investment in halal (permitted) tourism.

Such resorts, he suggested, should be “exclusively halal, free of pork and alcohol, and with proper segregation and dress code – it will be a benefit.”

President of the Adhaalath Party and State Minister for Home Affairs, Sheikh Hussain Rasheed, said that even if a company attempted to open a resort as the one proposed by Olialia, ”nothing against the Tourism Act can be conducted in the Maldives.”

”Tourism is not bad itself, but it can also be conducted in a bad way,” he said. “Ever since the beginning of tourism in the country has become broader day to day, and the government has established the Tourism Act to maintain and organise the industry,” said Sheikh Rasheed, explaining that the employment of female staff was also regulated by the Tourism Act.

”There should also be a percentage of Maldivians in all the resorts, according to the Act,” Sheikh Rasheed explained. ”I don’t really think the Tourism Act allows such an island to be developed in this country.”

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohammed Shaheem Ali Saeed had not commented at time of press.
Head of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, said he thought the idea was “beyond a gimmick” and “so totally spectacular and different a business model that it could very well succeed.”
Sim said he did not believe such a resort should encounter objections from the conservative establishment in the Maldives, “because if [the country] objects by singling out a physical characteristic, we’re not going to attract anybody.”
The ‘Island of Blondes’ is not the first ambitious resort development to be proposed in the Maldives.

In March the government signed an agreement with Dutch Docklands to develop a gigantic floating golf course, holding a signing ceremony in the President’s office.

”Golf has a good market in the world, and most of our resorts do not have a golf centre due to lack of space,” observed Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair at the time.