Necephor Mghendi , International Federation in Male'
The second day of March will, from now on, be important for the Dhuvaafaru island community. It is ‘the birthday of Dhuvaafaru; the day the Kandholhudhoo community was reborn’. These were the words of the community in a vote of thanks delivered during a ceremony held on Monday, 2 March to inaugurate Dhuvaafaru as one of the inhabited islands of the Maldives’ Raa Atoll.
From very early that day a celebratory mood filled the air. Palm tree trunks covered with patterned palm leaves, streets lined with banners bearing ‘thank you’ messages, song, dance, and a wide variety of food.
Representatives of the American, Australian, British, Canadian, French, Japanese and New Zealand Red Cross societies and those of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Maldivian government were given a tour of the island. Jubilant community members lined the streets to greet them while community leaders and staff from the IFRC Maldives delegation were at hand to show them around.
Exploring the island
There was no corner of Dhuvaafaru that the guests did not explore; from the various blocks of houses to the health centre, the island administration building to the primary school, the power house, sewer outfall station, pre-school, mosque, sports complex, secondary school, finally stopping at the auditorium.
To kick off the ceremony, school children re-enacted the December 2004 tsunami through a mime – a silent reminder of the terrible day and an unspoken memory of what their community had endured.
“Today we also pay tribute to those who were lost to the tsunami,” said Per Jensnaes, head of the IFRC Maldives delegation. “They will always be remembered.”
Moosa Ali Kaleyfan, a leader from the community and deputy director of the national disaster management centre, said: “As you know my island Kandholhudhoo was washed away by the tsunami. Most people lost their properties and valuables, and they were very sad, but I only had a diamond, and I lost it.”
“I was very sad... I was wandering in search of my diamond, I never lost hope. I was searching for my diamond; it was in a silver ring. Today, right now, in front of you, here is my diamond, on a golden ring. My diamond is my community, and my ring is my island. I had a silver ring [Kandholhudhoo], now I have a golden ring, which is Dhuvaafaru.”
He concluded: “Thank you Red Cross Red Crescent for returning my ring, in a better shape and a better quality.”
Speaker after speaker lauded the patience of the Kandholhudhoo people – now residents of Dhuvaafaru – as they waited for their ‘new’ island to be completed. Each underlined that their fortitude had ensured that they finally got a beautiful island with houses, buildings and modern, state-of-the-art facilities.
Penny Mason, the national president of New Zealand Red Cross, observed: “It must be exciting and great relief to have reached this stage.” She added that everyone who donated money for the project “would be so very pleased to know how well their donations have been spent”.
Ricardo Caivano, American Red Cross’s senior field representative for Maldives and Sri Lanka said: “All of us – the community, government and Red Cross Red Crescent partners – can be proud of what we have accomplished together.” He encouraged members of the community to continue improving their new home.
A safer shore
On their part, the community thanked IFRC and its partners for bringing the Kandholhudhoo people to a safer shore after the tsunami. “You have built us homes to shelter us, schools to provide our children with education, a health centre to provide us with medical services, and sanitation as well as power utility services to make our lives comfortable.
“You have also given us care, listened to our needs, and overcome many hurdles and challenges with admirable patience. These are invaluable things which we cannot repay in any way – this we can never forget. Your memories shall be etched on Dhuvaafaru forever.”
After the speeches, the community presented tokens of appreciation to the Red Cross Red Crescent representatives. Each received a model of a dhoni, a local sail boat, made by the Dhuvaafaru community.
President Mohamed Nasheed arrived soon after lunch and was received by Jerry Talbot, the IFRC secretary general’s special representative for the tsunami operation, Per Jensnaes, head of IFRC Maldives delegation, and island authorities. The president then proceeded to the administration building where he unveiled a commemorative plaque, signalling the ‘birth’ of Dhuvaafaru.
In his address, President Nasheed said: “On behalf of the people of Dhuvaafaru and the people of Maldives, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for all the work that the Red Cross Red Crescent has done over the past four years.” He added: “They have been amazing and extremely helpful in enabling this country to come back to its own feet.”
Speaking at the same event, Jerry Talbot offered special thanks to Red Cross Red Crescent donor societies, “Without which the project would not have been possible.” He noted that the societies had contributed 41.5 million Swiss francs (35 million US dollars/27 million euro) for the project.
“I am sure you [Red Cross Red Crescent donor societies] will feel as satisfied as we do to see how your donations have enabled the restoration of a whole new community and facilities that create new opportunities for the people of Kandholhudhoo.”
The special representative also acknowledged the endurance of Kandholhudhoo people. “All who have been involved in this project have been inspired by the strength of your community, the determination to get back on your feet and to rebuild your lives.”
Further, he conveyed IFRC Secretary General Bekele Geleta’s wishes to the community for success and fulfilment of their new life in Dhuvaafaru.
Expressing her satisfaction, Dhuvaafaru resident Havva Ismail described her new home as spacious “compared to our tiny house in Kandholhudhoo”. She said: “This island has a bright future, but we all have to do our bit to carry things forward.”
Another resident and grandfather, Abdul Haadhy Yoosuf, said: “I don’t have any complaints. We came here to find a house all set to move in to.”
His wife, Hareera Abdul Rahman, echoed his words saying: “We are happily settled now. We were destined to be reborn on this land.”