The Edition brings readers a dose of positive news over a cup of tea shared with inspirational folk doing all sorts of positive work in the Maldives. Where there’s tea, there’s hope!
For most Maldivians, the island of Meedhoo in Addu Atoll hardly needs an introduction. The island is well known across the isles for various reasons, including its historical significance. But one thing that really catches the eye is the island’s overall cleanliness and immaculate grooming.
In the past, people congregate and worked towards beautifying the island as a community.. However, things changed drastically from the 1970s to 2005, with the island changing from it’s formerly picture-perfect status to one filthy, full of garbage.
At the time, in addition to the increasing amount of litter, another issue reared its head to the surface. With the excessive cutting attributed to “construction projects”, “widening roads” and “reducing falling leaves and branches” that was taking place throughout Meedhoo, the number of trees on the otherwise green, lush island began to decline rapidly.
That’s when a group of concerned citizens finally had enough. A like-minded collective gathered and discussed at length about the best way to tackle these issues and return Meedhoo to its historically pristine naturality.
“On July 30, 2017, we registered a non-profit organization under the name Nalafehi Meedhoo, with the intention of maintaining the cleanliness of the island and make Meedhoo greener by planting more trees”, said Ali Wafir, Chairperson of Nalafehi Meedhoo.
Ever since, the organization has not only managed to restore much of Meedhoo’s emerald glory, but has continued to organize various cleanup programs and planted trees on the island.
Elaborating on the state of their beloved island during the height of littering, Mohamed Kaamil, recalled that people were forming a habit of dumping their waste on either side of the road or at the beach. Consequently, those areas began to accumulate piles upon piles of smelly, unsightly and unhygienic garbage.
“We came up with the idea to clean those areas and turn them into places that people could use. So, we cleaned up some of those locations, and transformed them into recreational zones.”
According to the NGO, a figure approximating at MVR 75,000 has been spent on the development of these beachside parks, which are equipped to cater to a variety of events.
“It used to be terrible, smelled so foul you could hardly breathe”, expressed Kaamil, with a slight grimace.
However, he added, expression brightening significantly, “Now, at these locations, you can enjoy romantic dinners, host grand wedding ceremonies or celebrate any other occasion. We’ve managed to change these places so much!”
This sentiment of well-earned pride echoes throughout the Nalafehi Meedhoo community. The parks are no doubt one of their most notable and best-received projects till date and a considerable effort as it involved clearing debris around a 5km radius, including the island’s coastal areas, in an array of cleanup programs.
Explaining that much of their work is rooted in observing local practices, Wafir said that the decision to focus on developing these beachside areas was made in consideration of the growing local tourism industry. “When tourists visit to explore Meedhoo, they are most eager to enjoy the beach,” said Wafir, “And so we realized that to have a lasting impact, our initiative had to centre around what would best serve our island community. In this way, we could show an immediate, tangible and positive effect”.
Speaking further about their mandate of making Meedhoo greener and more lush, Hussain Zuhair highlighted that there is an ongoing project that targets the planting of 2000 coconut palms.
“Thus far, we have planted over 500 trees.”
“Should the government grant us the opportunity, we plan to plant trees along our main road (Meedhoo BondaMaga) which stretches over 2 kilometres,” a nostalgic smile crosses over his face though it sombers as he continues on.“Presently, MTCC is working to tar the road.”But even such an impressive number is not enough for the small but ambitious group, and Nalafehi Meedhoo has set its sights even higher for the future.
In Nalafehi Meedhoo’s point of view, however, landscaping and beautification cannot simply be limited to tree planting. Hence, the NGO kicked off, a project exclusively geared at planting florals for décor.
Surely enough, during The Edition’s outings around Meedhoo, the number of different flora around the island, and in the parks, did not go unnoticed.
Similarly, Nalafehi refused to limit their work to the constraints of land either. One of their ongoing programs includes the caring and nurturing of the island’s famous ‘Mathikilhi’ mangrove.
“When considering all of our locally relevant environmental issues, for instance, the erosion of coastal areas, it is vital that we recognize the importance of our mangroves as the island’s natural defence system.”
Venturing deeper into the waters and wetlands, Nalafehi aspires to do much in terms of protecting and nurturing the island’s marshy areas as well as coral reefs.
“We wish to better the state of our wetlands as well. We’ve already shared plans with government authorities that we Nalafehi, in collaboration with our island community, had formulated with respect to these areas.”
On that note, Nalafehi as also begun preparations to establish a coral nursery. Noting the dire need to protect the island’s surrounding reefs, especially as the death of corals is also certain to impact local fishing, Wafir asserted that such realizations cemented the NGO’s determination to “prioritize a coral propagation and research program” in the near future.
Collectively, both the organization as well as Meedhoo’s island community expressed desires to preserve and develop the area in a manner that would be ecocentric, sustainable and could generate income for the island.
Currently, Nalafehi has over 70 members in the organization but comparatively, the NGO stated that youth participation is less than desired.
“During certain programs such as cleanups, our youth do take an interest and participate in the activity. However, for the most part, this is an area we hope to improve in.”
They remain optimistic that their recent efforts will bear fruit within the next 5 years or so, with a considerable increase in terms of youth involvement.
“It is our belief that emphasising the value of our environment and teaching young children to appreciate our natural heritage is the only way to carry our work forward, in a sustainable manner.”
To ensure the success of their shared vision, Nalafehi goes the extra mile, including school administration, parents and students in almost all of their activities, including their cleanups..
Shedding some light on the secret behind the applause-worthy progress Nalafehi has made in just a few years, Saaliha, Vice-Chairperson credited the NGO’s vast female participation.
“I’d like to highlight that nearly 70 percent of our organization is made up of women. Being able to say so, brings me a lot of happiness. Even when it comes to participating in our events I wish to highlight their constant support.”
Notably, Saaliha expressed that all the beach areas which were initially cleaned by Nalafehi are maintained by the women of the island, who work tirelessly on a daily basis, to keep the locations tidy and replenish the garden and cultivate flora.
“The headway that we’ve made as an organization here does reflect that of our female community.”
Even with the growth attained by this NGO in such a short period of time, they have experienced a few setbacks, hindering their full potential.
“One of Nalafehi’s key projects would be to revitalize plant populations that are known to currently be decreasing in number. We also want to grow larger plants to foster shade”, explained Hussain Rasheed.
“For this purpose, we determined that we would need a considerably large plot of land to develop a nursery. Despite the fact that we have been requesting for the land since Nalafehi came into being, sadly, it is yet to happen,” he said, with heaviness.
Members regularly report activities that threaten the environment such as felling large trees, public littering, to the relevant authorities. Nevertheless, they revealed that, at least in past years, little action has been taken to bring an end to such things.
Perhaps the most recognizable face of the NGO, Wafir said that one of the biggest obstacles the NGO faces difficulties in remains that of attaining funds. He expressed that, being an eco-centric organization which doesn’t divulge into sports, meant that they do not get funding from most people, not even from individuals who apparently share similar interests.
The setbacks the NGO has faced, however, has only strengthened their resolve, making them, by their own admission more determined than ever to restore Meedhoo to its former wholesomeness, in every way.
Organizations and individuals interested in helping or donating to Nalafehi Meedhoo’s cause can reach the NGO via Facebook, Twitter or Email. The NGO welcomes input, research and knowledge, as well as a helping hand to fund their many, wonderful initiatives.
“The objective of preserving and protecting our island, for generations to come, is at the heart of everything we do,'' offered Wafir.
The honesty of his claim, if not evident by the genuine motivation reflected in his eyes, is definitely clear in the ethereal reflections of Mathikilhi, the gleaming roads and abundance of sweet-smelling, buds blooming in vivid colour. Scenery that half a decade ago, seemed all but lost, yet thanks to Nalafehi’s determination, is seemingly here to stay.