The Maldivian Volunteer

About the Author: The following article was written by Babli Jahau, who volunteered for Tiny Island Volunteers at Noonu Atoll Velidhoo. She stayed for about two months and has compiled her Maldivian experience.

Maldives Promotion House – Mother Nature has seldom let me down when it comes to fuelling my visual appetite for natural wonders…. I’ve chased autumn colours in New England, gazed at lofty mountains from the foothills of the Himalayas, and always been amply rewarded with scenic marvels far beyond expectation.

But nothing had quite prepared me for the spectacular visual feast which unfolded before me a mere two months ago…..

….. a scattering of luscious green islands fringed with white sandy beaches, each surrounded by brilliant turquoise blue lagoons, giving way to the rich, darker blue of the mysterious, somewhat daunting ocean.

Such was the panoramic view from my sea plane as it soared above the Maldives archipelago.

Spectacular aerial view of the Maldives.

Of all the things I could do with my sabbatical, I chose to go the Maldives as a volunteer in marine conservation. Tiny Island Volunteers, an organisation with a Big Heart performed the Huge Task of dispelling my doubts about volunteering, about marine conservation, about the Maldives (all three areas new for me).

Surely enough, I soon found myself excitedly being a part of a team of marine conservationists representing Tiny Islands in a Maldivian island community.  I guess in the end, it was my love of the ocean which clinched it for me, and I figured that, with an adventurous spirit, and a yearning to learn and impart value, I couldn’t go very wrong……

….. and I wasn’t wrong….

Like a magician’s assistant vanishing in a puff of smoke, all my apprehensions disappear with the very first snorkel…. The sheer profusion and vibrancy of the life underwater took my breath away and had me gasping for more……

Just get me back in there among the fish and coral. I am thirsty and its not for a drink.

A shoal of blue surgeonfish – common sight in the reefs

This visual display of reef life at its finest was not the only thing that had me spellbound. The warmth and genuine hospitality of the island people blew me away and ensured that I became a fan of this remote, tiny Maldivian island, called Velidhoo.

Working closely with the Velidhoo Future Foundation (VFF), it was not difficult to notice an influence and a strong direction exuding from this local NGO which permeated into the community…. the founder members displayed and exemplified the same traits I saw in the island people in general – a strong environmental focus and desire to advance.

Coming from the humdrum and rat race of London, life in the Noonu atoll was so laid back, I sometimes had to remind myself that I was not on the set of Paradise Island, but there to work towards making a difference in the lives of the Velidhuans, and helping preserve marine life.

Gorgeous beach south of Velidhoo – relaxing indeed

Armed with my newly acquired Open Water Diver certification, I plunged into “fish-watching” with a degree of seriousness any boss would be proud of. “Fish-watching” is a means of marine conservation in which we monitor and count reef fish in an attempt to maintain records to study the effects of fishing, coral health and aquarium export on the fish population.

My “work” as a volunteer consisted mainly of diving and snorkelling, observing sealife from the tiniest nudibranch to the huge, mesmerising mantas. Community activities in schools and clubs took a little more time to organise, slowed down by school holidays and vacation of many of the residents.

The elegant manta – they became a regular sight the 2nd half of my time in Velidhoo

The Lazy Gecko Dive Centre based in Velidhoo was instrumental in training and directing our water-based activities. Together we organised domestic fish surveys, beach clean-ups, initiated Ocean Ambassadors (see previous blog) and a whole plethora of activities which only the Maldives can dish out for you.

We also had our share of activities purely for pleasure – uninhabited island picnics, night fishing, night snorkelling, inhabited island visits, exposure to resorts, all against the magnificent backdrop of the gorgeous sea, sun and sand. (If I haven’t sold volunteering in the Maldives to you yet, then I need to go back to writing school)

The 1st batch of Tiny Islands marine conservationist volunteers in Velidhoo, December ’11, on our way to Picnic Island

Activities aside, a real affinity for this simple but endearing island grew steadily in me, and wanting the best for the locals became my prime focus.

…. little children calling out your name and taking you by the hand; folks stopping in the street and inviting you in their homes for short-eats or to a cafe for coffee; young people who, inspite of their limited English are keen to share their stories with you; mums bringing their baked goods for you to sample….

I learnt how to truly appreciate, and accept appreciation in return – lessons for the heart and soul no universities or books can teach you.

Volunteers hand in hand with VFF founders

As I write this, I am looking through double glazed windows from my house in England into the icy Surrey landscape, but my thoughts constantly go back to sunny Velidhoo; the warmth it radiated and can be felt the moment one steps off the boat into the pier.

After all, in how many places in the world can you simply flag down any passing motor bike and request a lift?


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