Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Week Two In Gorgeous Hithadhoo, the Maldives

PROJECT: Teaching & Health
WRITTEN BY: Caitlin White

The second week of our adventure has absolutely flown and we cant quite believe that we are already halfway through our stay. Our week was filled with a range of fun activities, a few hospital visits and a number of long days of volunteering and swimming lessons.

We may as well begin with our first weekend on the island, which we spent enjoying the sun and our free time. On Friday (the first day of our weekend) we began the day slowly with much of the group choosing to sleep in . Unfortunately for the lighter sleepers in the group a sleep in is simply not an option over here. As the Maldives is an Islamic country the local mosques are all equipped with speaker systems that call the locals to prayer five times a day. While this does not affect us during the day it does prove painful at five in the morning.

After a leisurely breakfast we headed out on a small boat to an uninhabited island referred to by the locals as Picnic Island. Located forty minutes off the coast of Hithadhoo, we were allowed to remove our rashies and long pants in favour of our much missed bikinis. It felt like we were back in Australia and everyone was excited about the prospect of a tan. Once close to the island we were transferred to a smaller fishing boat which allowed us to navigate our way through the coral maze that surrounded the small, pristine sand island. Once there we simply enjoyed swimming, snorkelling, relaxing and playing beach games. 

As we embarked on our trip back to the mainland we all sat and watched the sun as it set, turning the sky a brilliant burnt orange that slowly faded to a soft lilac. It was one of those moments that forced us to count our blessings and appreciate the world in which we live. I personally couldn't help but sit quietly and reflect upon the great opportunity we had all been given. It was then that I realised how special it was to be experiencing the real Maldives - the people, the culture, the food and the stunning scenery.

The weekend came and went quickly, and before we knew it were were beginning our second week in the schools and hospitals. We also continued on with our swimming lessons, a really important part of the program here on Hithadhoo. The swimming lessons had been organised prior to us arriving with the local Hira School as an extra curricular activity for the students. Our first lesson was chaos as the children arrived all at once instead of arriving over two different time slots. While we tried to assess their individual levels of ability we struggled to deal with the excitement of the children and their eagerness to get into the water.

After a near miss in the water we finished up the lessons and went back to the drawing board. As a group we discussed ways to organise the lessons in a way that was safe and achievable for us and the students. We have now formed pairs and assessed the children. We have created groups ranging from beginner (scared of the water) to advanced (being able to kick confidently).

Swimming lessons here are a world away from the organised swim schools we have in Australia. The first step over here is to get the children to realise that swimming in thongs is near impossible and that goggles only work when placed over your eyes. Due to their cultural restrictions many of the children wear long pants, long tops and even headscarves into the water. This adds weight to the children and can make things more difficult for them when they are learning to swim. For those reading back home, just imagine water safety week in Australia (where children have to swim in tracksuit pants and long shirts) but the children doing it everyday. Despite the challenges, the swimming teaching is extremely rewarding. At our first lesson we had children who were terrified of the water and now after just a few lessons we have managed to get them floating on their backs and blowing bubbles with their faces in the water.

For the teachers, the second week at the schools definitely proved more difficult than the first. A number of the girls struggled to form positive relationships with their classroom teachers and their schools. As a fourth year education student I have definitely struggled with the amount of observation occurring the classroom. In Australia we are always encouraged to take lessons and be creative as young educators however my experience here has been quite the opposite.

While a number of us have struggled with staff at the schools we all agree that the students are what this experience is all about. Every day when I walk into the classroom their faces light up and they wave at me with excitement until I wave back. The classes here often have 25-30 students large which means that the teachers simply can't get around to helping everyone. For this reason the majority of us spend our time supporting the students who are often left behind. They seem overjoyed to have the assistance and the kids that were once falling behind are now often the first to finish.

Highlights of this week for the health students included assisting a gynaecologist in the antenatal clinic and observing both major and minor surgeries in the operating theatre. Holly lucky enough to be placed in the antenatal clinic for two days, learning about the role of ultrasounds in pregnancy and how to determine the gender of a foetus through looking at the ultrasound images. She was even given the opportunity to tell an expecting mother what gender her unborn baby was - how exciting!

Ainsley and Tayla were placed in the emergency room for a few days - taking vital signs and learning about case management in a hospital that lacks a triage system. They found this extremely interesting as it was extremely different to what they had learnt as student nurses in Australia. Genevieve was posted in the operating theatre and was able to observe a number of minor surgeries including the removal of cysts, corns and even an appendix. She found that she learnt a lot by watching the surgeons as they worked, asking questions where appropriate. They were all happy to dicuss their procedures and reasons for doing things.

All the health students have also enjoyed getting to know the doctors and nurses that they have been working along side in the hospital. At times the hospital can be quite empty, leaving plenty of time for the girls to chat with the local nurses and learn more about the culture and challenges specific to living on Hithadhoo. There are a few babies due next week so the girls are excited and will no doubt have more news next week.

On Australia Day we all got the opportunity to visit the local school called Kangaroo Kids. Interestingly Kangaroo Kids is a franchised private school that was founded by an Australian-Indian woman who wanted to spread the Australian approach to education around the world. The school focusses on creativity and learning enjoyment and tends to take a more liberal approach to education than other schools on the island. We arrived at the school, equipped with face paint, aussie flags, stickers, stick on tattoos, tiny koalas and other Australian things. The kids sang 'Home Among The Gum Trees' and even managed to learn some simple yet effective choreography (special thanks to Nikki and Sasha). It was an awesome afternoon spent celebrating our beautiful country with a bunch of excited and extremely grateful students and teachers. There was no BBQ and there certainly weren't any beers but we wouldn't have spent it any other way!

We are looking forward to an awesome third week over here and cant wait to share it all with you soon.

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