‘Junk’ councillor takes part in SLOW LIFE Symposia

Baa atoll Maalhos Councilor Abdul Matheen Solih has said the authority has been labeled the ‘Gondu’ – or junk – council after they started actively participating in improving the island’s waste management.

“The islanders have started calling us the ‘Gondu’ after we have physically started going to the junkyard and working on the waste management,” said Matheen.

Matheen and his fellow councillors have been the labelled with the derogatory term after they set out to do what the majority of the country has failed to by recycling materials rather than burning them or dumping them in a landfill.

Public disregard for work done towards the betterment of the environment was one of the main issues raised at the recent SLOW LIFE symposia which brought local environmental NGOs, councillors, and government officials together to discuss responsible waste management and sustainability.

The symposia – held on November 17- was a sister event to the annual SLOW LIFE Symposium which has previously seen the participation of philanthropists and celebrities such as UK entrepreneur Richard Branson and actor Ed Norton.

Maalhos council also complained of the lack of response from the government to the opposition majority council, with Matheen recalling the failure to be provided with the MVR45 (US$3) needed for gloves for safety reasons while working at the junkyard.

He provided assurance, however, that the council would not succumb to the challenges, revealing plans to implement a sustainable waste management system by adopting the recycling based model currently implemented in Baa Atoll Ukulhas.

NGOS making a difference

Meanwhile, Environmental NGO Save the Beach highlighted the plight of Villingili beach – filled with garbage every weekend by visitors from the capital Malé, where there is no natural beach.

Save the Beach – which started as a youth movement in 2008 aiming to conserve the natural beauty of the Villingili beaches – now conducts clean up and awareness programs not only in Villingili but also in many other inhabited islands.

Speaking of the busy Villingili beach, co–founder Hassan Ahmed ‘Beybe’ said that the NGO has no other option but conducting daily clean-ups alongside major clean up events to keep the beach garbage free.

A recent Save the Beach organised beach clean-up saw the participation of officers and crew from the USS Rodney M Davis – the US Navy’s 7th fleet missile frigate on its last tour of duty.

When asked about the reception of the work done by the NGO, ‘Beybe’ said that they have received positive support from the Villingili community and that it now “understands the importance of preserving the beach”.

Other active NGOs present at the Symposia included his manta ray awareness and conservation organisation Manta Trust, Maldives Lifeguard Association, Dhi Youth Movement and Maldives Body Boarding Association.

Environmental Activism

Environmentalist, Aishath Niyaz who has been involved in environmental activism for over 12 years shared her experiences as an activist and highlighted some of the broader issues with the current environmental situation in the country.

“The biggest constraint is definitely managing finances. I am very lucky as I do not have huge expenses but sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to keep on going like this,” said Aishath.

Aishath’s concerns of financial difficulty were not unique to her but were echoed throughout the Symposia by many of the younger participants.

Having reviously worked at various related institutions, Aishath now provides technical support for local NGOs and small authorities after completing her education in sustainable development by making a decision to not work in institutions which “lack integrity”.

Proving that activism can be done in various forms and arts was local photographer Asad Nazeer ‘Funko’ who, while specialising in fashion and portrait photography, also creates thought provoking art pieces about pressing environmental and social issues.


The event was organised by the award-winning Soneva Fushi resort whose founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani initiated the SLOW LIFE foundation based on the resort’s philosophies of low impact and sustainable luxury tourism with SLOW LIFE being an acronym for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness and Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.

While speaking at the event, Shivdasani said that the SLOW LIFE initiative reflects Soneva group’s core beliefs such as ‘intelligent luxury’ and that he believes that dedicated businesses, not governments will bring change to the world.

The participants at the Symposia were given a platform to voice their concerns over environmental sustainability in the Maldives, resulting in an action plan for the upcoming year to address these environmental challenges.

The day long symposia, which included a tour of Soneva Fush’s gardens and waste management programme, ended with discussions on ‘real’ actions that can be done in the next 12 months to contribute to the cause.

During the discussions, the individuals and NGOs chose to commit to different initiatives which will come under the banner ‘Clean Maldives’.

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Touch of life and death

Waiting has never been a strong suit. But when it is for your best friend who has never left your side, you don’t complain.

Early on Monday evening I was with Inayath Shareef (Inoo), waiting eagerly to welcome her new baby brother into the world. Every time the person inside the delivery room called out her mother’s name, we all flocked to the door. I take out my camera and get ready to click. But every time it’s a false alarm. The contractions still have not reached their height. Disappointed, we walk back.

To kill time, we talk and teased two young pregnant relatives in their mid 20’s. One of the girls looks as if the baby is going to pop out of her at any minute. A relative of Inoo say it is time for us to get married and have kids. We retaliate – “C’mon, we are still kids ourselves.”

Silently, I feared for the pain my friend’s mother must be going through behind the closed door. Relatives are not allowed in and the family only knows anything about the delivery through the occasional feedback from nurses.

Meanwhile, I overhear a conversation between Inoo’s aunt and a young man sitting inside the room, waiting for his wife’s delivery. When he was a baby, his birth mother and father abandoned him on the island. The frail, old couple I had seen moments before in the room, had adopted and cared for him like a son. They were never able to have a child of their own so it was a special occasion. They are soon going to be grandparents of a lovely baby girl.

Evening news starts on TVM at 8:00pm sharp. All eyes and ears were on the flat screen on the wall. The top story of the night, as expected, was the death of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb. Listening to the news at the time was strange. I was sitting among his blood relatives. He is the great uncle of my best friend. The tragedy has left the family devastated. When the news finished, they all talked about death penalty as the only solution to stop the henious crimes in the society which had claimed their brother’s life.

“Mara Maru [Death for Death],” my best friend says.

It was 9:00pm. The conversation on the death penalty had ended and we were again sitting idle. Some, including me, had proposed the idea of calling it a night.

The sudden sound of the person inside the delivery room startled everyone. The nurse called out the name. Same drill. Everyone rushed. I had my doubts, so I walked slowly. We were about to leave when the crowd came running in.

“The baby is delivered! Where is the bag with baby’s stuff?” a relative asks.

Inoo puts the dress for the baby, olive oil, cottons and other necessary post-labor kit into the bag and hurries outside to hand it to the nurse. She was so happy. That moment I realised how long it has been since I have seen that beautiful smile on her face. Life has not been too easy for her, or me.

Outside the labor room, the old relatives were facing a bigger issue. No one has prepared the honey. “How can you forget something so important?” one of the aunt complains.

It is an Islamic tradition to give honey as the first thing when the baby is born. They discuss what to do and finaly sends someone off to buy a bottle of honey.

Meanwhile, as I waited outside the labour room with camera ready, I saw a family rush into the emergency room, just a couple of feet away from labour room. A woman was carrying an unconscious child, about three years old. An accident perhaps, I thought.

However, I was not at the liberty to quench my curiosity because the labor room had just opened. Out came the nurse, carrying my best friend’s little baby brother, wrapped in a soft blue blanket. I switched on my camera and re-focused.

Inoo’s uncle walked in first. He was asked to recite the prayer call near the baby’s ears. Another Islamic tradition. Others followed in. It was such a special moment. Unlike other babies, he did not cry. Despite the bright light above, the baby boy managed to open his eyes wide. He scanned around and stretched out the hand and wrapped his little fingers around my best friend’s finger. He’s a healthy cute little fella weighing almost nine pounds.

The nurse took the baby back to the mother. We walk out discussing who he most resembles. Everyone agreed the boy looks like the father, who was unfortunately still on his way to Male’ from the resort where he worked. As I walked into the labor room showing the pictures from the camera, I accidently bumped into a woman who was crying. I apologised and entered the labour room lobby.

It was a joyous moment for all.  As we ate chocolates and celebrated the birth, a relative came in looking worried: “I think a child has just died.”

We all walk out to see what had happened. Five women stood crying outside the ward next to the labour room. Another curious onlooker told me a child who was brought to the hospital just now had passed away. Immediately, I recall the family rushing into the emergency room and the crying woman I bumped into.

“Oh my God!” was my first response. I followed a relative into the ward.

On the hospital bed, lay a beautiful little girl. I walked closer. Underneath a white blanket covering up to her neck, the girl’s arms were folded. One of the woman standing next to the bed snakes her fingers through the straight locks of her short black hair. “Please wake up,” she cries.

I pat her shoulder, unable to take of my eyes from the lifeless body of the little girl who is no older than one of my nieces.

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Three”, the woman replies. She is the girl’s aunt who had arrived Male’ from the island the day before. “She’s actually a very fair skinned girl,” she continued, as the girl’s skin turns darker with every passing minute. She held the girl’s chin tight, keeping her lips closed. I did not know why at first, but when fluids started to escape out her nose and mouth, no explanation was needed.

“Only if she would open her eyes,” the woman says, between sobs. I touched the girl’s forehead. Near the bed stood a another little girl in tears, no older than 10. The girl on the bed is her younger sister. I notice my best friend had just walked in, so asked her to take the girl outside.

“Where is the father?” I ask, as there was no man to be seen, except for a teenage boy. The woman explained that the girl’s father had abandoned the family a long time ago. Her sister has been raising the two children on her own all these years, with not a penny from the husband who had left her before the girl’s birth.

I could only imagine the mother’s sorrow. She was speaking with two police officers outside the ward. They ask her what happened.

“She was born with a hole in her heart. The doctor said she needed surgery in three months. I could not get enough money to do the operation.” The mother burst into tears.

A policeman asks if she has any complaints with the hospital.

“Why would I have a complaint with the hospital?” The woman cried. “I don’t. I only have complaints with myself. I am the mother. It was my responsibility to keep my children safe and raise them. I failed. It is my fault she is dead.”

Though I am a stranger and have no right to interfere in that family’s matter, I could not stop myself from speaking out.

“Please don’t blame yourself sister. Life and death is beyond our control. It’s not your fault. You did everything you could.”

The grief-stricken mother smiles, and walks back into the room with her elder daughter to say her final goodbyes.

Though I had told her the death of her child was beyond her control, I could not help but think that the little girl would be alive today if she could have had that life-saving operation.

Outraged, I told the policeman to find the father. “He should be held responsible,” I contended.

Inoo later told me that she had taken the elder daughter out for a walk. The girl told her: “My father will be very happy my younger sister is dead.” We both were dumb-struck.

It was time for Inoo’s mother to be transferred to the maternity ward. I conveyed my condolences to the family and followed my best friend. She was finally able to hold her baby brother. Everyone looked so happy.

I remained confused. I caressed the baby’s soft cheeks and walked out, leaving the family to welcome the new member into their home, as another family outside were preparing for their little girl’s funeral.

In one night, I had touched life and death.