Maldives Rowing Volunteer
 
 
 
The first full week is over and what a week. After four days of getting up at 5am to be at the ‘boat house’ for 6 I needless to say made the most of the fact coaching only started at 2pm on Sunday by sleeping til 1230! It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d gone to sleep at a proper time the previous four days but a prize giving at one of the schools (finished at midnight), an evening with friends and Pingu, the stray kitten I have adopted, all combined to ensure I had only 4 hours sleep each night! For those that know me this is the worst form of toture you can inflict! I’m amazed I’m still alive.....

So yes I made it two months before finding a wailing stray kitten to adopt and wreak havoc around my room. She/he was on the side of the road wailing when I went to supper one night and 45 mins later was still there and being ignored. So I picked it up knocked on a few doors to ask if it was anyone’s (got given the look bestowed world wide on a ’crazy white lady clutching a cat’) and got on my bike and pedalled home clutching the squawking thing.

Obviously, the main problem was feeding – no cat food in tins or kitten formula here. So powdered milk administered by a syringe borrowed from Jeeja, she luckily had one from the time Kichu (her son) was ill, became the answer. I was hoping to find a foster mum cat for the kitten, not trusting my nursing skills of unweaned cat but that is not possible so Pingu is here to stay. Other than being very ugly – scrawny, not well endowed with fur, black with a kinked tail, legs that are too long and the kitten tummy that becomes circular when full and causes even more coordination and balance issues! She/he is very cute. Sleeps on a pair of trousers I destroyed with bleach. Wakes and yowls for food then sleeps again. Though now it is beginning to become interested in playing and climbing. However, the descent is never graceful involving face plants or full on landing with a thunk on its head. Quite good as it then is quiet. It has mastered the art of using a litter tray but not the ability to leave the tray with out treading in everything it has produced. Because it’s paws then get wet it gets all upset and starts to shake them but can’t stay in one position while shaking a paw so gets more paws coated and soon cat, litter and the rest is scattering about the room with me cursing and mopping up after it! Oh and I’ve trodden on it a couple of times!

Anyway back to the reason I’m here and the rowing. All is going well the students are improving - we are able to let go of the boats and race around in the coaching launch drilling the arts of going in a straight line and listening and more importantly obeying instructions into our very keen pupils. Saturday was the day of ‘leave Tash in the sea and row away and don’t come back’ – three crews left me bobbing miles out after their ‘15 strokes and stop’ turned into a row back to shore!

We’re also running land based training for the students so such favourites as squat jumps, push ups, sit ups, the plank, and squat against a wall are ensuring we have a regular string of complaints of very sore muscles! The assistant coaches are discovering the joy of making people do lots of hard exercises while standing and encouraging further effort!! We go to Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo next week for a two week intensive coaching course before returning for a week to prepare for the interschool competition on 4th November. Aaaaghhhh!

Just so you have an idea of the numbers we deal with each week. We have 128 boys and 65 girls from the 9 schools all of whom come twice a week to training. This with only 4 doubles and yet it all seems to be working as long as it’s not windy...... Controlling the boats in the wind is very difficult when small and unfit so we’re praying for a calm November 4th! Interest is not restricted to the students parents, teachers, doctors, council members and most of the bystanders who come to watch are all desperate to have a go and are waiting patiently for their turn.

Hope you like the photos of the DAWN start with Feydhoo school on Saturday morning.

X Tash

 
 
Picture
Dan and Cat (action shot)
I would love to use the fact I have been rushed off my feet for the reason as to why I have not posted a blog for a while, and whilst it is true I have been much busier I really have no excuse as I still seem to have time to research (actually look at utter rubbish) many things on the internet.  Anyhow not to be out done by Tash (although I will definitely let her win the longest blog post award) up in the north we too have been kicking off a new programme in a big way. Sadly though it is still not rowing as I cannot lie and say our boathouse is almost complete but there is progress I can assure you

The most important news has been the arrival and now imminent departure of Dan and Cat, two recently ex Westminster School students who have been here to help with the rowing for the past three weeks. As we have yet to begin rowing on Hulhumale they have been helping all over the island, mainly at Ghaazee school (the government school on the island), with swimming lessons, girl guides and sports too. Two families from the school have been looking after their every need and letting them both have a real experience of Maldivian life, although as Dan doesn't like fish and neglected to tell Miss Geela his host this, I am not completely sure what he has been living off!  I am hoping that they have had a good time and feel a little guilty that they have not been able to do any rowing but they have been very useful with the start of a new swimming programme and everyone on Hulhumale will be sad to see Ket and Den (as I am constantly told by the children is how I should pronounce their names as my pronunciation is wrong apparently) leave on Tuesday.

Picture
Measuring the boathouse site
Back to our boathouse saga, well as I mentioned earlier there has been progress, a structure (the old preschool) has been dismantled and is awaiting lorries to move it to our boathouse site where it will be re-mantled and ready to welcome our boats. However as we are waiting for the workmen to finish building staircases for the shop precinct in Hulhumale (precinct is a very grand name for what is actually a row of mostly useless shops) and these staircases have been under construction since I arrived here I am still not holding my breath for an imminent completion of the boathouse but it is definite, definite progress, so my excitement is starting to build a little in the hope that we might be able to begin rowing before I leave at Christmas!

Picture
An eagle ray, excellent photo by me!
In the meantime I have been concentrating on getting the swimming programme running with more support from various organisations and people.  Finally I feel like I am beginning to make progress and the tragic drowning incident a couple of weeks ago has brought water safety and swimming a lot higher up agendas.  There are many long term plans to get swimming lessons back on the curriculum in schools again but in the short term we are looking to build on the current programme with support from families and organisations here to offer swimming to all the children on Hulhumale.  In an ideal world it would be great to get free swimming lessons for all children through out the Maldives but right now that seems like a target which is a long way away, in the meantime I believe the best thing to build support from the ground up by offering lessons on a small scale and it does seem to be working but more news on that in the future!

Picture
It now suddenly seems that it is not long until I return to the UK, which is a scary thought, both for the fact that sometimes I feel like I have achieved nothing so far in my time here (I then give myself a bit of a pep talk and reassure myself that I have done something) and there is still so much to do.  We have not even started rowing yet! Mostly it is scary as I am still at a loss as to what I will do on my return to the UK (other than wear my biggest coat all the time), as there has been no news from the police I am not hopeful about that so any job offers are gratefully received! There is still a lot to do but the most frustrating thing is that the time it takes to achieve real progress as I very wary of leaving with no structure in place for the project to continue. Anyhow in more exciting news for me is that my lovely crazy parents are coming out to visit me in November, when I say visit me, they are coming for a month and actually will only see me for three or four days, it is as if there is more to see here than me!!  I am now rivalling Tash for long posts so I will endeavour to write more often and keep them short and sweet, promise!

Bye for now

Rachel

 
 
I’ve had one crazy last week and a bit. As Rachel said, I flew back to the UK for Alan and Jules' wedding (Friday 9th) which was brilliant fun and thanks to Carla's wardrobe I actually had something decent to wear! Despite my fears the couple of days in the UK were quite warm so I didn't freeze and was back in balmy Addu on the Sunday night. I knew I’d arrived in the correct place, despite my sleep deprived state, when I was greeted by the first person I saw in Addu with the question - How old are you? followed by 'You look fat! Did you eat alot in England?' Straight to the point as always. I muttered something about drinking lots of champagne and retired to bed.

Since Monday morning we have had 8 of the 9 schools down for either one or two sessions – doesn’t sound too impressive until you work out the numbers – 80 students on the half days and I20 on the full days! We have also been given an engine and boat to match for safety and coaching from (any suggestions for names very welcome) and I’ve managed to make at least four students cry by not selecting them! The shelter, trailer and banning of cars from the rowing beach are all moving closer to completion.

I’d just like to say a word about the boats here – they are amazing! Why anyone would ever want to learn to row in a fine scull is beyond me. These beauties are as far as I can tell untippable and this is coming from the queen of the capsize! If there is a way to turn turtle I will find it no worries. This combined with the students complete lack of fear of being on the water means that on a whim they will swap seats out in the middle of the sea – something I spotted with horror yesterday. At any opportunity they will also happily leap overboard. I have to keep remembering to expressly forbid it – not something I’ve ever had a British student do! Definitely makes teaching novices much more enjoyable and we may even achieve our target of getting them all to a standard where they can race in November for the SAARC summit!

The other amazing thing about the boats is that you can hold onto the back and be towed by your novice rowers through the water thus overcoming all the problems of launches, four totally novice boats and keeping all the coaches occupied. So each session you will see four boats wiggling about the bay with the coach hanging off the back. As I gently trod water yesterday evening watching two of my novice girls row away practising the art of steering while moving (another of my many talents I wish to pass on) I thought how far I was from being wrapped up like a mummy in a launch in the driving rain and grey cold of the tideway. So i did a somersault to celebrate and was picked up by my crew on their way back and towed back into shore! This mode of coaching does mean you end up submerged for eight hours of the day – turns you into one big prune and if you haven’t had the benfit of getting fat on in a four day trip to the UK you get quite cold according to a shivering Musaffa.

The coaches (there are six of them and myself) still seem very keen and continue to turn up to crowd control, coach and receive their daily salt water submersion! Friday was our first full day – four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. Prayers take place at 11 on Friday so all activity has to be finished by 10. So 6am start for all. As i pedalled up the link road with the sun just coming up on my right I hoped we’d all survive the day! Assistants all appeared by 6 and the first lot of students arrived from Feydhoo school. By the end of the day we were all totally exhausted (none of us had had much sleep the night before – me because i’d been to a rock concert and the others because they never go to bed before 2am anyway) but all had gone just fine. Getting up for 6 on Saturday felt terrible and I had big fears that i would be the only one. As i sat waiting for the students to arrive I got a phone call from Roba who sounded as bad as i felt – ‘is anyone else there?’’ No’. Silence for a bit as his hopes of staying in bed were dashed. ’OK, I’m coming’. And down went the phone. So by the end of an hour everyone was back on site and we had another full but very enjoyable day messing about on and in the sea with the boats.

The enthusiasm of everyone is overwhelming. I’ve had to limit the number to 16 girls and 16 boys from each school as we only have four doubles.  Still everyone asks if they can come down for more sessions or add more people to the group. Regularly I’ll count the group and discover 16 has become 19/20 and have to tell them to please go – hence the tears. My Divehi vocab now includes such useful  phrases as straight arms, flat legs, come forward, go and harder! I finished yesterday off by taking Nawee (my little friend from the Male swim competition who adopted my camera for hours at a time) for a spin in the boat. He is somewhere around six – eight years old and tiny. The handles when at backstops came up to his forehead but that didn’t stop him. He’d sat for two hours watching everyone rowing and had worked out the basics of what needed to be done all i had to do was make sure his blades stayed square and convince him he didn’t need to pull the blades over his head each time and away we went. Great end to a good week.

X Tash  
 
 
This morning a school trip in the Maldives ended in four high school girls and their principle drowning. The trip, for 32 children and their teachers from a school in Male, some how ended up in a complete tragedy when the children got into difficulty and their principle tried to rescue them.  Although I am not sure of all the details it has been reported that only the principle could swim and the children were in water 8 feet deep, definitely not in open sea.  Not wishing to make any comment on what happened as I do not know, all I can say is that encouraging children to swim well can only decrease (never remove) the likelihood of water related deaths happening.  In a country where the sea and boat travel are such an integral part of everyday life it still amazes me how many people are unable to swim and or terrified of the water.  

In the UK we view being able to swim as a safe precaution, yet how often (if you are not a rower) are you actually somewhere you could drown? In the Maldives, where even the capital island is only 1.5km long, the sea is an ever present force, yet if few of the parents (very few of the mothers) are able to swim and swimming lessons (particularly outside of Male) are rare, children grow up unable to swim yet constantly exposed to the sea.  Put simply it is a recipe for drowning.

I am not 100% sure what I am trying to say other than SWIMMING IS VITALLY IMPORTANT here.  I was out diving this morning very close to where this school trip was and it saddens me to think whilst we were congratulating ourselves and being a bit smug about seeing the marine life, less than a mile away children were drowning in relatively shallow water, close to land and in not terrible sea conditions because they couldn't swim. 

The news is online, however I will not link to it as the newspapers are not particularly cautious about what they put online, and sometimes overstep the boundaries of decency.

My heart goes out to the victim's families and all involved today

Rachel
 
 
Picture
Both Tash and I have been pretty busy this past week gearing things up for a hopefully action packed September.  I cannot speak too much for Tash, but after a flying visit to Male last night I can reliably pass on from Tash that she has a squadron of volunteers to train up in the art of rowing and potentially hundreds of children keen to learn, unfortunately with only 8 seats available in rowing boats at any time demand is far outstripping supply. Even with paltry grasp of business I understand that is a far more preferable situation than the reverse - if only she was charging it would be a sure fire Dragon's Den hit.  With everything going from strength to strength for Tash it was time for me to pull my finger out, but following Ramadan there was then Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations which are understandably a big cause for celebration (if I had been fasting for a month I would want to party like it was 1999), and involved extended public holidays which drifted on for the week following the end of ramadan.  Despite many people fasting again now for another week things are now back to relative normality, and I am exceptionally happy not to be living off pot noodles and jam sandwiches!

Back to the reason I am here - rowing, I am proud and thankful to report that progress has begun on our boathouse, in fact I am dancing a little jig of happiness right now.  I am refusing to get too excited as I am confident there will be more set backs but it is definite progress - a corrugated iron structure is being moved to the site and with a little landscaping we should have a boat house and access to the water in the foreseeable future.  When that does happen I will not be dancing a jig but having a huge 90's style rave in celebration, with whistles and air horns. On the swimming front lessons are set to begin next week after meetings and presentations to both schools on the island we have already 45 students signed up and that is only from the smaller Lale International School, I might be a little over booked.  Following a meeting about swimming with the larger government Ghazee school I walked out somehow having become a supply biology teacher for the next three weeks - I am still slightly confused as to how that happened - but it should be a good experience for me if not the students!  More on that in another post.

We are now in the process of working with the Swimming Association of the Maldives to recruit  local volunteers to assist and eventually take on the running of the swimming programme in the long term.  This is the overall aim of our work here so getting them on board will be a great start.  Until we get local volunteers we have the newly arrived and still slightly fazed students from Westminster School, Dan and Cat, who have been here just over 24 hours and are getting settled in.  Dan is having a few dietary problems as he doesn't like fish which a bit of a problem as every meal is built around fish from breakfast to supper and all snacks in between! Dan and Cat are assisting in the school with various lessons and will be helping with swimming too and possibly even rowing if progress is fast enough that the boat house is completed before their departure, cross your fingers please.

With progress in both locations continuing, we are now turning our attention to the long term plans for the project and working out how we can ensure that everything we do here is sustainable and effective so a lot of planning is under way.  We are still keen to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in any way shape or form, feel free to get in touch and ask any questions (related to the project, I am not so good at deep philosophy so no meaning of life questions please).

As I mentioned Tash came by for a flying visit last night as she has flown off to the UK for a very brief visit for a friends wedding before returning at the weekend, showing what an excellent friend she is!

Right I am off to make myself feel very ill by doing circuits in the heat, after a day spent writing and reading overly complicated government documents. Lots of diving planned for this weekend so am really looking forward to that, life is not all work here.....

Rachel x

PS Well done to everyone at the World Rowing Championships where the British team did very well, special well done to Jo Cook and the rest of the women's eight as well as the men's four.

 
 
 
 
First major news – the boats arrived!! All in one piece and sparkling white. They are now safely housed in the ‘old power house’ luckily a very short walk across the road and into the sea. Currently we are carrying them everywhere as we wait for the trollies so building up huge forearms – much, I’m sure,  to the secret delight of the guys helping me.

The Hithadhoo Youth Centre has come up trumps and found me around 10 guys to train in the art of rowing within 8 sessions to help me coach the school children as of the 15th of September. Thankfully coastal boats are the most stable things in the world after fine sculls so progress is rapid. They are all dive or water sports instructors or various relatives of the afore mentioned spending time off the resorts back in Addu. They tell me they want something to do in their days and that’s why they have agreed to volunteer to help me out. This ‘burning desire’ wavered somewhat in most faces yesterday when I announced this morning’s session was starting at 6. However, 6 this morning dawned and we had most of the group, a little bleary eyed and struggling (as I would be) to operate in English so early in the morning (must get on with some Divehi). However, we were soon all wide awake and doing some very unorthodox races up and down the main channel involving planned 360 degree spins at appointed spots! Palm trees make great landmarks.

Yesterday we made it out into the deep blue lagoon floating over this huge mushroom of coral (don’t worry Guin well below the keel of the boats) under which, I was assured by all, lives a massive moray eel. Sadly I didn’t see it. At this point it was decided the seating arrangement needed adjusting as one boat was making as much progress as a one legged spider. Before I could say anything the two that were swapping had leapt overboard! With much blade waggling and ‘helpful’ advice from us onlookers everyone was soon back in the boats and away we went again!

The schools start next week so I have a week of presentations and introductory days. So far enthusiasm is very high which is great to see and I swing between waves of excitement and sheer terror at what is about to unleash! The SAARC Summit is being held in Addu in November and I have been asked to run a schools rowing regatta for this event on the 4th.... Every school gets two sessions a week and as you can imagine time is of the essence. I’m sure it will all be fine....... aaaahhhh!

Along with the boats came my bike – see photo. You have no idea what a difference this has made I now no longer have to walk for half an hour to get to the boats but can cycle in 5/10 mins. The whole north section of the island is now open to me for exploring. Total bliss. Well, only after I’d replaced the chain that snapped on me and the tyre that blew up!

It was my bday yesterday – I of course went snorkelling with Family Babu and amongst all the fish we also saw a turtle which was great! Cebe designed an amazing card and thank you to both Family Babu and Jeeja and Hari for my very kind presents. As you can see from the shell in the photo my alter ego has followed me out here!  Luckily the

I’m practising keeping these missives short so here’s to seizing the moment....

X Tash

 
 
Picture
@GBcoxlessfour
Just a quick post, not much has been happening as following Ramadan there has 
been Eid al Fitr, a big celebration of the end of Ramadan and of course a few days 
of public holiday (they are quite free and easy with their public holidays here).  
However things should get moving again soon, especially as I have just replaced 
my phone which annoyingly was stolen, along with my iPod last week.  In the 
meantime I just wanted to wish everyone racing at the Rowing World Championships 
a big bag of luck, not that many need it but it is always good to have luck on your side.  
Follow the racing here at world rowing and follow lots of Great Britain rowers on 
twitter for some insider revelations including 
redexpress2012AlexGregoryGBprideofcornwallMarkHunterGBtidewaysculler
and many others. 

Also a quick congratulations to Kate Hornsey in 
the Australian women's pair who subbed into the 
boat after illness to the original rower and has just qualified the boat for the Olympics and won a 
bronze medal - good work Horns


Rachel

PS An early happy birthday to Tash, who will celebrate Maldives style tomorrow.