Government nominates, shuffles ambassadors

The President’s Defence Advisor, Amin Faisal, has been nominated for the post of Maldives Ambassador to India, Haveeru reports. Faisal was nominated to replace current Ambassador to India Abdul Aziz Yousuf.

Bangladeshi Ambassador Ahmed Sareer was also nominated as the Maldives’ Ambassador to the US, while the Ambassador to Singapore, Mohamed Haleel, was nominated for the Maldives’ ambassador post in Bangladesh.

Deputy Ambassador to Singapore Ibrahim ‘Mody’ Didi has been promoted to the ambassador post in Singapore. Ahmed Rasheed of Karankaage/Shaviyani atoll Maaugoodhoo was nominated as the Maldives Ambassador to United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A complete list of nominations was sent to the parliamentary National Security Committee today, Haveeru News reports.


MNSL appoints director to oversee closure of Singapore operations

Cabinet Secretary Abdulla Saeed has been appointed to manage the closure of the Maldives National Shipping Limited’s (MNSL) Singapore operations, according to media reports.

Haveeru reported that Saeed, who also serves as chairman of the Maldives National Oil Company (MNOC), will work as a director alongside a staff accountant in order to settle any outstanding debts and return company assets to Male’ ahead of the office being shut.

The decision to close the group’s Singapore office has reportedly been taken as the company’s cargo carriers were not operating in the country.

According to Haveeru, the former office head of the MNSL’s Singapore operations, Mohamed ‘MM’ Moosa Manik, had been offered the director post but had opted to leave the company instead.

Saeed is himself already based in Singapore, according to the report.

The MNSL operates as the Maldives’ flagship freight transportation group.


Volunteer teachers’ top tip: “Be posted to Kulhudhufushi!”

International Volunteer Program (IVP) teachers Aideen Robbins and Kash Izydorczyk have one piece of advice for those who follow in their footsteps: “Make sure you are posted to Kulhudhufushi!”

The two teachers are almost halfway through their year in the Maldives and were in Male’ comparing notes with the other 11 volunteers under this year’s programme.

Aideen, orginally from Ireland, signed up as a volunteer in the Maldives after four years teaching in London.

“I’m 28 and felt like I just needed a change,” she says. “I saw the ad in the Times Educational supplement, and had no idea what to expect. At the interview they clarified that we were not going to the Maldives of resorts and beaches.”

Kash, who is from Poland, but grew up in Singapore, was fresh from studying International Education in Brighton, UK, and said she had been looking to do some volunteer development work somewhere in Asia.

“I have experience teaching English as a second language and wanted to keep hopping around the world for a while. I was considering Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand, but the Maldives interview came up first and it seemed the perfect place to go. I also thought it would be very interesting to live in a Muslim country – I’ve studied religion in the past and was interested in learning more,” she says.

The volunteer teachers met each other at the airport in Male’ at the beginning of the year, and were whisked off for a week of induction, including an island visit and a stay with a local family.

Kash and Aideen, who were teamed up together, began their time in the Maldives observing family life in Diffushi.

“We were shown our room on the first day we arrived, and the family would knock whenever it was meal time,” Aideen recalls. “There was not a lot of English spoken, but the kids really warmed up to us after a few days.”

They were then placed at their school of 360 students in grades 1-8 on Kulhudhufushi, an island of around 6000 people in the country’s north.

“I’m from a rural background in Ireland where I’m used to everyone knowing everybody else,” Aideen says, explaining that after a week, the islanders really warmed to the pair and began to invite them to picnics and night fishing expeditions.

“We’ve become close to some of the other teachers, they’ve been very happy with us asking questions,” Kash says.

Their fellow teachers and supervisors were very willing to help them navigate the teaching of sensitive subjects, they say, such as evolution, “although as I’m a maths teacher I’ve dodged that entirely,” says Aideen.

Kash, who teaches English and a social science component, said she was to advised to be careful, “and make sure the school knew what we were teaching. The supervisor was very open,” she said.

The teachers say they have been particularly impressed at the extent of the school’s resources.

“We are lucky to be at a school that has TV screens in every classroom – the resources are great and people seem to be very happy that we make full use of the IT,” Kash says.

Their supervisors have happily accepted a different style of teaching, the two teachers say, and were impressed at the reception for new ideas that was apparent during a Principal’s conference they attended.

Socially, Aideen and Kash have thrown themselves into the Kulhudhufushi’s sports scene. Aideen plays five-a-side football on weekends with the men, while Kash is coaching basketball.

“We play basketball every day,” she says. “We’ve also signed a basketball development contract with Male’s T-Rex team. There’s talk of bringing our team to Male’ now for a tournament.”

Meeting up with other volunteers this week, Aideen and Kash say they feel fortunate to have been posted to a larger, more populated island.

“They’ve had very different experiences to us,” says Aideen. “[Volunteers] on smaller islands in particular seem to have faced more challenges.”

Behavioural management issues seemed to be a challenge in some schools, Kash notes, such as “14-15 year old students who do not want to be there.”

“I think it has been easier for us because the school only goes up to grade eight and the students are not under the influence of older children,” she suggests.

A key adjustment the pair made soon after their arrival was “to adopt the same laid-back attitude as everyone else.”

“We laughed off things like broken water tanks, toilets, oven,” says Aideen. “You need to accept that things will take a little time to fix – don’t expect things to happen overnight.”

The pair were prepared to forego air-conditioning, but were delighted when it appeared in their bedrooms: “They have really been spoiling us,” Aideen says. “We also moved in straight away – one of the other teachers said she had been in temporary accommodation for months.”

The ‘last-minute’ cultural concept was an early challenge for those used to the relative punctuality and forward planning of the Western world.

“The clipboard would come around for signing at 3:00pm for a meeting at 8:30pm that night, which was completely alien to me,” Aideen says. “One night we were at school until midnight making banners for the next day – we didn’t mind at all, but you can’t imagine that happening in the UK.”

Such is the programme’s success that demand for volunteer teachers has boomed, notes head of the Maldives Volunteer Corps (MVC), Mariyam Seena: “we had over 80 requests from islands last year,” she says.

Budgetary and resource constraints limited that number to a maximum of 30, but in the end 13 volunteers were recruited. Seena attributed this to negative international publicity in the wake of the ‘Swiss Wedding’ incident at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa, “which occurred just before we started recruiting.”

“It was bad timing,” she noted.

Recruiting new teachers may not be difficult on Kulhudhufushi – Kash and Aideen say they have grown fond of their students and are contemplating seeing them through to their GSCEs in 2013.

“We’ve asked if at least it might be possible to maybe come back,” Kash says.

The IVP is intended to reduce the shortage of trained personnel in numerous sectors of the Maldives, including education and health. The 13 volunteer teachers were recruited by the Maldives High Commission in the UK, the Maldives Volunteer Corps (MVC) and UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives.


President Nasheed makes first official visit to Singapore

President Nasheed will make his first official visit to Singapore starting today, reports

The two-day visit is at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. President Nasheed will deliver the keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Water Ministers Forum held in conjunction with the Singapore International Water Week.

On Monday, there will be a welcome ceremony for him at the Office of the President of Singapore, followed by a meeting with Prime Minister Lee and a call on President S. R. Nathan. President Nasheed will also visit the Singapore Airport Terminal Services’ Coolport @ Changi facility and the National Orchid Garden where he will have an orchid named after him.

The President will also participate in a business forum organised by the Maldives High Commission in Singapore, and inform Singaporean business people and potential investors of the opportunities in the Maldives.

He is accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Shaheed, Housing, Transport and Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam, President of Male Municipality Adam Maniku, and other senior officials.


New Maldives Museum to be ready for Independence Day: Minister Dr. Sawad

Maldives new museum in Male will be inaugurated on Independence Day 26 July, says the minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad., according to Miadhu Daily.

The new museum has been donated by the Chinese government, and Dr. Sawad says that work to transfer artifacts from the old museum is underway. A task force including officials from the President’s Office, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Environment Ministry and the MNDF is taking part in the transfer. The new building is still under construction and some difficulties have arisen during the transfer process, says Ali Waheed, who is in charge of the taskforce.

Sultans Park would become the museum park, says Dr. Sawad who confirmed that the Chinese government would assist in that development.

“The Chinese government and the Tourism ministry are working to train staff at the museum, with added assistance from a Singaporean NGO,” Dr. Sawad said.


The Sinking of the Yoahanbarass

In 1943 war was raging in Europe and the Pacific. The Asian mainland was itself crumbling under the might of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, with 1941-42 seeing the fall of Burma, Malaysia and Singapore.

Even the isolated Maldives was feeling the effects of war. Food shortages led to people eating bark from trees, a national suffering that would later become known as ‘Bodu Thadhu’, directly translated as ‘ big famine’.

The British had beefed up their presence in the country. The admiralty felt Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) unsuitable to for a base after the fall of Singapore, so a naval base was established in Seenu Gan on the southernmost tip of the Maldives. This would be many Maldivians only exposure to the war.

That was not the case for the 40 unfortunate passengers aboard the ‘Yoahanbarass’, a cargo vessel running regular trips from Seenu Hithadhoo.

The Yoahanbarass was captained by Ibrahim Didi and was carrying cargo. Little did the crew know that the Japanese navy planned to invade the Maldives, and use it as a stepping stone into India – the thick Burmese jungle was deemed too harsh to cross and alternative routes were being sought – and so Captain Didi and his crew and were being tracked by a submarine.

On the seventh night after they had left Hithadhoo, Yoahanbarass was rammed by the Japanese submarine – many on board had never seen such a vessel before. The submarine surfaced and one of the passengers died when machine gun fire was sprayed across the deck. Japanese officers demanded that the person in charge to come on board.

This is where a the story takes a twist. A single decision saved one man’s life, and condemned the other to death. The person in charge of Yoahanbarass was Mohamed Ali Didi, brother of none other than Abdulla Afeef, the man who would become president of (the short-lived)  United Suvadive Republic.

Panicking, Mohamed Ali Didi urged someone else to own up to being in charge. Mohamed Manikufan stood up and went over to the Japanese, later recalling  how he was bundled into a tiny room on the submarine. It was the last he would ever see of the Yoahanbarass.

Meanwhile, back on deck, Captain Didi and the rest of the passenger and crew of Yoahanbarass were brought onto the deck of the submarine. Didi was also taken on board with the Japanese, and the hatch was closed.

Although no official record was made, Didi claimed the submarine dived, drowning everyone left on deck, including Mohamed Ali Didi.

Another vessel later arrived on the scene to find the Yoahanbarass sinking. The captain reported lots of sharks and debris, but no bodies were ever found.


After a short trip, Mohamed Manikufan and Didi found themselves in Japanese-occupied Singapore. Imprisoned in the same cells as British and American prisoners-of-war (POWs), they were subjected to torture and interrogation.

The Japanese wanted to know the British strength at Gan, how many personnel, naval vessels and planes they had. Not knowing the answers to these questions, they were subjected to more torture. Nails were ripped and routine beatings were administered.

In addition to this, the two Maldivians bore witness to the cruelties inflicted on the other POWs. They later recalled about how badly burnt American pilots were brought in and chucked into tiny cells, how officers slowly killed English soldiers.

Both Mohamed Manikufan and Captain Didi survived their ordeal in prison until Japan surrendered Singapore on 15 August 1945. The English soldiers liberated all the prisoners.

However, Mohamed Manikufan and Didi did not find their way home until Mohamed Amin was President of Maldives in 1953. People back home did not know the story of the Yoahanbarass, nor did they know that these men were still alive until they returned.

After arriving back in the Maldives, both men returned to living normal lives. Both have since passed away, but their story is kept alive.