Post-tsunami education in the Maldives: a humanitarian response
Carmen Beaton, Lammu Atoll
Volunteer teachers have helped to rebuild school education in the Maldives after the crisis of the 2004 tsunami, through a project managed by Australian Volunteers International.
Australian Volunteers International (AVI) is an independent not-for-profit organisation that manages people-centred development projects and programs in a wide range of countries. Its work focuses on governance, participation and social inclusion, health, education and the environment. AVI recruits skilled volunteers at the request of its partner organisations overseas and within remote Australia. It prepares the volunteers for their assignments and supports them in their work. People recruited by AVI share skills and develop relationships with people of other cultures, building the capacity of local organisations and communities and using innovative program models that respond to locally identified needs.
Teachers are highly valued as volunteers, as educational support is one of the core services delivered by AVI. This article describes one such project, AVI’s Post-Tsunami Education Project in the Maldives. The project was a direct response to a request from the Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Funded by AusAID, it has been managed on behalf of the Victorian Department of Premier & Cabinet with support from the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD).
In the Maldives, the tsunami displaced more than 13,000 people. Several islands were made uninhabitable and more than 100 people lost their lives. Throughout the atolls of the Maldives, communities were left with no access to housing, fresh food or clean water. Many of the more remote communities were disintegrating, with individuals and families choosing to move to the capital, Malé, for employment or to rebuild their lives.
Many teachers that usually travelled from nearby countries to teach in the Maldives could not return for the 2005 school year because their own homes and communities had been decimated by the natural disaster in the region.
The volunteer teachers selected by AVI for the project in the Maldives, had demonstrated a range of skills needed to cope with the education-related aspects of this crisis. As well as teaching in classrooms the selected volunteers had the skills to train other teachers and undertake trauma counselling.
Reinstating primary and secondary education programs was a priority in an effort to restore normality and routine back into the lives of children, their families and their communities. Once this step was achieved the AVI volunteer teachers assessed the status of issues within the Maldives education sector, its role in the community and the rehabilitation needs of the children. The teachers also introduced their local colleagues to student-centred activities, reflective games and revision techniques as an alternative to the didactic teaching methods that had been in use.
While students were not displaying any obvious scars or trauma, they were initially quiet on returning to school following the tsunami. From their experience working with displaced people and communities with psychosocial trauma the AVI teachers were aware of the importance of developing trust with the students. They also noted that the students’ relationship with westerners had been very transient, as it was common for Western teachers to stay in the community on a short-term basis and leave just as they were developing a strong bond with local children. As a result many students had learnt to ignore newly arriving educators.
After establishing trust with the students the AVI teachers introduced various questioning activities to encourage the students to talk about issues of concern to them. A range of kinesthetic and interactive activities were also incorporated in classroom learning tools to assist with the rehabilitation process. These teaching methods also assisted teachers in overcoming language barriers. Visual, physical and creative activities were vital in increasing students’ enjoyment of learning, as well as for the rehabilitation process.
The AVI teachers applied some of the methods of community development and community engagement that they had used in Australian schools. The whole community was drawn into extracurricular school activities, including sporting events and art projects. For example, murals were painted at the school and in public spaces. Events for the students and the whole community were incorporated in the school calendar, including the celebration of United Nations days of significance and key national days. Providing an opportunity for communities to celebrate was vital to the rehabilitation of the community.
Since the first group of teachers was mobilised to the Maldives in 2005, twenty-two AVI volunteers have participated in the project. Three are currently on placements in the Maldives, involved in a project focused on developing the sustainability of the country’s education sector. UNICEF is also supporting the development of the sector in outlying islands where they have developed teaching resource centres. AVI teachers have worked at these centres to develop training programs and train new teachers.
Professional development of existing teachers and ensuring a steady supply of new local teachers in the future are all positive steps to improving education opportunities for the young people of the Maldives and reducing the country’s dependence on foreign teachers.
The skills learnt overseas by AVI teachers can potentially be applied to assist refugee students in Australia who have fled traumatic experiences in other countries, overcoming language barriers or other psychosocial issues facing students.
Educators will find further information about relevant programs and application procedures on AVI’s Register your interest: General education and training web page.
About the authors
Carmen Beaton worked on the Post-Tsunami Education Project in the Maldives from February to May 2005. She worked as a volunteer teacher at Ishdoo Kalaihdoo School on Lammu Atoll and Kolhufushi School on Meemu Atoll. Carmen also worked as a Community Mobilisation Officer for the British Red Cross Maldives Recovery Program from November 2005 to June 2006. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Youth Affairs and a Post-Graduate Diploma of Secondary Education. Ms Beaton is currently working at the Meridian International School in Melbourne and is completing a Post- Graduate Diploma in International Development. Her knowledge and experience have recently assisted in the development of AVI’s International Development Schools Resource Kit for Australian secondary schools. The kit will be launched on 10 April during National Youth Week.
Christine Crosby is the Marketing and Communications Manager at AVI. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism and Literature) and is currently completing her Post-Graduate Diploma in Communications.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning