When I first wrote this article, I introduced my topic explaining that the new MDP government were in the tricky process of negotiating outside influences on the Maldivian population, whilst maintaining their own cultural heritage.
Now, when I come back to update my article I find that the disarray, brutality and suspicious circumstances with which the MDP has renounced its position leaves me lost for words. This short article cannot cover such a controversial and unexpected set of events.
Instead I want to reflect upon my experiences of the Maldives last summer: on my teaching placement with Salaam School, as well as my impressions of the youth movement in Male’, which at the time seemed to be blossoming -albeit in its infancy. I hope to bring to attention of the readers the importance of a creative outlet in the development of a young society, and the passion and virtue I witnessed in the growing Maldivian youth movement.
My experience of the Maldives comes from working under Salaam School; a charity funded ‘mobile’ school, which toured the islands of the Maldives offering pop-up classes in vocational training to unemployed young people. The courses were a great success, and sought to educate youth and strengthen communities.
Salaam School was founded in Male, the Maldives in 1999 by Maldivian local Aminath Arif; an inspirational woman who advocated equal rights to education, she was a mentor to the young generation of the Maldives. I had the honour of teaching a two month course in ‘Computer Administration and Book Keeping’ over the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, I arrived in Male’ too late to meet Aminath, and ultimately, the death of Aminath Arif was the death of Salaam School.
The loss is something which I believe is still felt across the Maldives. Aminath Arif died in a tragic accident on July 8, 2011, and without her management in Salaam School, its courses inevitably ran dry. Without her leadership, none have successfully taken control of the school with the integrity it requires.
In order to understand Salaam School and its intentions better, it helps to look a little at the history, and the trouble that Aminath found when launching the school. When I arrived to teach, Salaam School had been aimed at teaching ICT and the leisure industry, however, Aminath’s original vision for the school was a creative-based education, focusing on music, language and art as a means of tapping creative potential and encouraging freedom of expression. Aminath’s essay, ‘The Maldives Must Value the Arts Education’, written in 2010, can be found on Minivan News, and articulates her struggles when first opening the Salaam School. Aminath writes:
New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.”
Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.
Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.
In order to contest the growing control over artistic expression and community collaboration, Aminath attempted to set up Salaam School. Unfortunately, Salaam school was never able to reach the goal of becoming a fully fledged arts school, and had to change its primary focus in order to get funding. Now, fast-forwarding to today, the course I taught on the small island of Thimarafushi was the last of its kind. It was a hollow victory to conduct my final exams and leave the small island to return to the capital of Male’, knowing that Aminath was no longer campaigning for the intellectual and creative liberation of the youth of the Maldives.
The fight for liberation is now bestowed upon the new generation. In Male’, the underground music scene is bubbling away under the surface of the city. Live music is an outlet for countless young men and women, who attend secret gigs in various locations across the capital. Heavy metal is one of the newest genres to take off; its loyal fan base spreads the news of upcoming gigs to peers by word of mouth. Recording studios, too, are hidden in garages and outhouses around Male’. Small music shops are popping up on the streets, boasting a whole range of Maldivian and Western instruments.
As well as music, the surfing culture has been growing rapidly. Surfers Against Sewage are cleaning up the beaches, and post hand-made signs along the coast campaigning against litter. Many DJs are hoping to combine surfing and music by holding surfer’s parties, where young people go to socialise and collaborate. Music, as Aminath rightly pointed out, unifies all of these young people and offers solidarity in a climate which seeks to isolate.
Unsurprisingly, the police crack down on any live music or DJs, and they quickly cut off any live music or parties. However, the police’s intolerance to music does not deter the next generation. They are on a path towards a conscientious future: the values underpinning the youth movement are an inspirational mix of heritage, community and environment. Over the next few years, the youth movement will be gathering momentum, and hopefully the authorities will not be able to catch up with them.
I hope to demonstrate that the Maldives would benefit from more charities, like Salaam School, which seek to facilitate a creative outlet for the next generation in the Maldives. The creativity which is burning inside of every young person needs to be praised and encouraged. Without a doubt, the next generation in the Maldives are environmentally and politically engaged. Their efforts to clean up the shores, campaign for democracy and collaborate with their peers demands attention, approbation and encouragement.
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