Monday, 26 January 2015

A thrilling and surprising farewell to the Maldives for team UTS

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROJECT: Sport and health workshops
WRITTEN BY: Joshua Dipple, UTS Sport and Exercise Science / Management student

With our trip underway, the 11 representatives from UTS were in full swing of island mode. Island mode consisted of starting everything later than the confirmed time, slow service at caf├ęs and scooters pulling out in front of you on the roads. Island mode also includes privileges such as stronger connections with students, in clinics and workshops and luxuries such as snorkelling, fishing, turtle catching, island getaways and eating a fantastic array of local food. With the locals so welcoming to us foreigners, the transition into Maldivian life was seamless.

It was not all smooth sailing though, as everyone knows ups and downs are experienced in all forms of life, especially when travelling. Sickness rocked the household for a few days and rain appeared in torrential measures for periods of time. But when given lemons, we make lemonade! Rain didn’t hold any team member back, with commitment still at full capacity; this was exemplified when we rode highly dysfunctional bicycles to soccer, netball, swimming and nutrition clinics in monsoonal rain. Although this became part of this UTS group's identity for the rest of this trip. Strong, determined, committed and passionate.

As all workshops and clinics began to finish up in the last week, it was a sad time for everyone: team UTS, the parents and all the students that have been on this journey with us over the three weeks. This was signified on Thursday, the climax to an amazing, life-changing experience. The workshops came to a close, gifts were exchanged and so many photos were taken and shirts autographed that we felt like celebrities, even if it was for only an hour or so. The swimming students even put on a picnic after their last lesson, with some students being lucky enough to receive individual gifts from appreciative students and their parents. The coaches also reflected the special connection shared by giving presents of their own to the kids.

It was all coming to a conclusion, with Friday being a day for cleaning, packing, reflecting, and making the most of our last day in the beautiful atoll of Addu in the Maldives. The day began with some cricket with the locals, some more goodbye photos, followed by a group lunch at a private island resort in the afternoon. Farewell dinner was consumed and present shopping for the most important people was undertaken directly post-dinner. On arrival at the guesthouse after a long, jam-packed day, the team were finalising packing and getting some much needed sleep.

But sleep was never on the agenda. Little did we know, but there was something much more exciting about to take place. It started with two swimming students offering to casually take us about 50 meters away where a couple of the cousins were dancing. We weren't too keen on the idea of it, but oh how wrong we proved to be. There would have been about 10-15 male dancers there, aged approximately 20+ working up a sweat that could nearly put the entire Maldives underwater, and the passion and enthusiasm which they exerted were sights to be seen. The locals soon caught onto us, offering us to dance, play drums and sing with them. It was absolutely amazing, and such a treat to experience an authentic local party on our last night. We headed home around midnight as we really did need some sleep. We later found out it was a circumcision party and I can say from being there, it was the best Maldivian party I’ll ever go to, and certainly not one I'll ever forget.

Ok, now it was time for sleep! Or was it? No, a soccer superstar that had deserted us for the last week due to a tournament he was attending, surprised us with a return to send us off. Night jumping off the peer, scooter riding and eternal chatting kept a few of the remaining students up until around 3am, with one student pulling an all-nighter just before the plane was about to leave! It was really special that Bonda paid for himself to come back and bid us farewell, so staying awake was the least we could do to repay his kindness.

Finally, team UTS would like to send out its biggest thank yous to Suna, Misbah, Bonda (Shamweel), Anif (Captain), Suni, Saif and Mika. There are many, many more people to thank, including students who attended clinics, food preparers and many more. To the UTS and Antipodeans staff behind the scenes who put in the hard work to make everything run smoothly for 11 happy-go-lucky uni students, our appreciation and thanks go out to you.

Anif (Captain), we appreciate the trips out to the big blue and to experience snorkelling, sea fishing, teaching us the ropes on how to jig and trolling. These opportunities will be cherished forever.

Suni, you were the person who we looked to when a smile was needed. Always smiling and happy, thank you for your translation skills and assisting with activities carried out. Saif, we are so appreciative of your hard-working attitude. Even though he only knew two English words ('yes' and 'no'), he was the most efficient and kind person we've even seen. Mika, at six year old, the world is your oyster. Everyone has had so much fun with you, thank you for taking us into your world. Bonda, the Maldivian international soccer superstar, thank you for sharing your experiences, wisdom and personality with us.

I have to leave one last special mention for Suna and Misbah. These wonderful humans are Antipodeans' in-country partners that made everything happen. Our initial perceptions of this trip were to work with kids, but Suna and Misbah’s efforts have enhanced the experience of this trip immensely, as if it wasn’t great enough! Activities such as snorkelling, fishing, dinners, transportation, private islands, resorts, and assisting with soccer, netball, swimming and nutrition clinics shows their dedication and commitment to this wonderful cause.

Mutually agreed by the entire team, these amazing souls weren’t just a part of our lives, but they WERE our lives. Words aren’t able to sum up the gratitude we as a team have towards these wonderful people and this trip, but memories and experiences last a lifetime, so nothing will be forgotten. To all future UniBreak volunteers, you're in unbelievably good hands!

Shukuriya (thank you)!

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