Saturday, April 26, 2008

Of Isdhoo ... an island divided!

I was watching late night news on TVM and came across the news that tension is high in Isdhoo due to disagreements over supplying power to the health centre (which is in the centre or the 'no-man's zone' between 'Kalaidhoo avah' and 'gandu avah' of Isdhoo).

The story of Isdhoo is not strange to me as I have personally experienced the historical clashes between the 2 wards of the island when Care Society in their Tsunami Reconstruction Programme tried to establish an agricultural nursery in the island of Isdhoo. We were working in the tsunami-hit Kalaidhoo ward of Isdhoo and the question of where to construct the Nursery arised. We wanted it to be a people's decision. I went to Isdhoo with my my project director and we met with the Kalaidhoo community. More than 50 community members were present and after a brief intro we threw the scary question (knowing the situation quite well): 'Will you (the residents of Kalaidhoo district) accept if we build the nursery on the north of the health centre?' what do you think? The answer was a definite 'NO'!. We tried in vain for more than an hour to convince the islanders that it would do no harm for them whether it's built on either side of the health centre. But they wouldn't listen.. A similar meeting was held in 'Gandu avah' community. No progress. I remember myself telling the community people present, in a mood of frustration, that we cannot build the nursery just above the health centre (which is believed to be on the centre of the island). It should be on either south or north of the centre. It seemed impossible to change the belief they had for generations. One after the other walked out of the meeting and we had to leave without any agreement on where to build the nursery. We tried to build consensus between both communities for nearly 3 months and had to pull out the programme from the Island, eventually. The 2.5 million rufiyaa worth nursery with a training centre and an agricultural sales centre was later built in Gan of Laamu Atoll. The people of Isdhoo lost a golden opportunity to develop agriculture in their island (Isdhoo being the most agricultural island in the atoll) ... just because they couldnt agree on the location. It's a shame!

The recent disagreements culminated in the digging of a wide trench through the middle of the island to literally divide the island into two. And they have done it a year ago also! A population of only 2000 people, in a country which some people still believe to be a model of national unity! It's a pity! The poor residents of Isdhoo had to suffer the consequences. There is no power in the health centre and it's closed since Thursday!

If you look at the root cause for the disputes between the 2 districts of Isdhoo, it's evident that nobody is doing anything to bring the people together. The authorities have being working in a way that the islanders will feel that they are people of 2 islands in a common land. There are 2 seperate island offices. Gandu Avah people have started calling their district as Isdhoo and it even confuses the islanders. No one knows whether Isdhoo is the name of the island or the name of one district in that particular island. I would rather call the Island Isdhoo and the 2 districts as Kalaidhoo Avah and Gandu Avah... I have no hesitation in saying that this disintegration we see today, is the bitter result of the divide-and-rule policies being implemented upon the unlucky people of this land for years.

I happen to be in Isdhoo a week ago for a British Red Cross assignment, and was discussing with some close friends (including the Island Chief of Gandu Avah) from the island about organising a community integration programme for both communities. It's sad that this incident happened and we will have to wait for the tensions to calm down again (which might take months... if not years!).. But I am glad that my determination to work for the betterment of the fellow Maldivians in Isdhoo has definitely gained more strength with this incident!

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