A children’s home on the island of Villingili, one of three institutions presently housing vulnerable children in the Maldives, is set to expand its operations to a second neighbouring building to provide separate accommodation for girls and boys.
However despite the proposed expansion, some volunteers at the shelter have raised concerns over the available finance for a service that houses, clothes and feeds almost 60 vulnerable children and babies who are without family to support them.
Speaking to Minivan News during a visit to the home, Mohamed Latheef, a volunteer who has been visiting and working with staff at Villinigili for the last nine months, said that while the government over the last few years had provided a budget to cover most operating expense, funds were being increasingly stretched by the rising cost of fuel and other basic essentials.
The children’s home, one of three properties assigned by authorities to shelter adolescents, is currently funded and operated through the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights. Authorities added that the home is also supported with donations from a number of private groups and charities in the country.
According to staff working at the home, 56 children are currently kept at the site on Villingili. Of these children, 25 are aged between 10 months to six years of age, while another 25 are aged up to 12.
Latheef claimed that although the annual state financing was vital in covering fuel charges along with the site’s water and electricity bills, very little financing was left to improve amenities and services for the children.
Among several challenges faced at the home, some children who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia cannot be supported within the country’s the public school system, one member of staff employed full time at the shelter explained. This has required the need for specialist tuition to assist with the children’s learning at the home to help them catch up with pupils of their age.
According to Latheef, Vilingili’s MP had this year been able to secure a neighbouring building that could be used to house girls and boys once they reached a certain age. At present, boys and girls living at the shelter are kept in dormitories on separate floors.
“The local MP here has been able to secure the building next door. The boys and girls will still able to play and see each other, but when they reach a certain age it can be quite difficult to keep them under one roof,” said the volunteer. “The building is all ready to go and can start this year, however, right now there are not enough teachers and staff to assist in running [the second building].”
With limited funds available to operate the home, Latheef told Minivan News that while the government was already providing a large part of the funds to run the shelter, most of this funding was paid immediately back to state-run enterprises.
“Right now, staff are going to shops and having to pay GST on the goods being used for the children. This is understandable as shopkeepers may not know they work for the orphanage, but the electricity, water and public transport [to Male’] are all supplied by government companies,” he said. “Surely it is possible to produce passes for the staff and the 50 or so children we have here and assist with our utilities? They can give us that much.”
Latheef added that during the last year, the home had been getting assistance from local MPs and organisations.
He stressed that following concerns about a female drug rehabilitation clinic right next to the shelter, authorities had also helped to move the site.
“There was a recovery centre for female drug addicts right by us. The girls who were there, aged about 16 to 18 would be standing outside with cigarettes, sometimes just in their bras and underwear. The boys we have here would gather to watch at times,” he said, adding that requests were made to authorities such as the anti-drug abuse NGO Journey for assistance.
“The recovery centre has been moved now, we don’t know where it has gone.”
Latheef claimed that it remained difficult for staff at the centre to directly get assistance from senior politicians in the country – a constant feature under successive governments over the last few years.
“While it can be possible to speak to indivudal MPs here, we can’t go to the government directly and making appointments can be difficult,” he said.
Latheef added that difficulties in addressing problems faced at the home with senior government figures were exacerbated by what he claimed was a lack of standard inspections or visits from key officials.
When contacted today, the Gender Ministry said that the deputy director of the Children’s home was unavailable for comment at the time of press. However, the ministry added that the he would be arranging a date to meet with Minivan News in the next few weeks to discuss potential funding issues and challenges in housing the country’s vulnerable children.
Aside from the home on Villingili, two other children’s shelters are currently operated in the Maldives. These are the Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) on Maafushi and Feydhoo Finolhu’s Correctional Training Centre for Children.