As reported by Ahmed Hameed Adam, from H. A. Thakandhoo.
With a population of just 970, the island of Thakandhoo in Haa Alifu atoll may not be the most significant island in the country. However Thakandhoo too have some characteristics it takes pride in. Blessed with rich soil, Thakandhoo is a farming island. It has its place in history too, as an integral part of the voyage by the Utheemu brothers to save Maldives from the colonial powers of Portugal. In fact, the eldest brother, Ali Thakurufaanu was martyred on Utheemu soil. His grave is still preserved in the island, as a historical monument.
Thankandhoo boasted a community that is exemplary in its unity in striving for the common goal of development. It boasted a community spirit that took pride in pioneering developmental efforts. At a time when schools and offices in islands were built from thatch, the people of Thakandhoo built their school and office with stones. It used to be an example for the whole atoll in their efforts to develop education and vocational training.
However the glory days are in the past. Agricultural efforts have all but stopped. The educational situation has deteriorated to a worrisome extent. Although the population stood at 1200, people opted to get registered elsewhere for various reasons leaving behind just 970 people to populate the island. Even of that 970, only a meager 300-400 reside in the island on a permanent basis. They consist of a few government employees, the elderly and children. Most school children have migrated to Male’ or other islands where they have more opportunities and 90% of the youth are living in other areas for employment.
The senior citizens living in the island mourn the prospect of living away from their families, children and grandchildren. Even though the situation has been inevitable, it does not ease the pain it causes these elderly people.
I have traveled to my birthplace on a vacation. I have been here for almost a month. The other islanders who returned to their native island for the school vacation have now returned. I alone remain from those who came for the holidays. I too am to travel tomorrow to return to Male’. I dedicated most of my vacation to fun and food, however I made it a priority to spend some time with senior citizens, every day.
Although each of these moments brought happiness, some of the stories of these grandmothers and grandfathers touched my heart. There is one topic they repeat every day. They ask me where I am going without living on this beautiful island. They ask if we do not know how they feel when we leave the island, leaving the senior citizens alone for the motherland. Such talk melts my stony heart.
Thus, I wanted to pen some of these grievances so that they would reach the ears of the masses. This is definitely an issue that deserves the attention of the youth demographic of the nation. We need to put some effort, and repopulate this declining island to bring some happiness to those weary hearts.
I spoke to some senior citizens about the situation of the island.
Shareefa Hussain of Gasdhoshuge Haa Alif Thakandhoo, is one of the most vocal in her disapproval of the citizens of the island travelling to Male’ and other islands. An otherwise quiet woman, Shareefa displays uncharacteristic anger and emotion when addressing the issue.
“Why does everyone abandon this island with such rich soil and migrate to Male’? This needs to be stopped in some way”, she opined.
Shareefa said that it gives her immense sorrow as some of her children and grandchildren live in other islands. She said that she awaits a time when she can spend the remainder of her days surrounded by her family and loved ones, in her own island.
66 year old Fathimath Ali is a celebrated personality in the island. Also known as Lata, her beautiful singing voice is famous across the island. Eid celebrations are incomplete without a song by Fathumadhaitha, in harmony with the beats of the boduberu.
Up until last year, Fathumadhaitha never said much about the abovementioned issue. Some years back, some of her children and grandchildren have migrated to Male’. However her happiness was that her eldest and his family chose to live in the island, with her. However, today marks the end of that chapter.
After leaving the huge, well maintained house Annaruge to Faathumadhaitha alone, her son and family have moved to Male’ to provide further education to their eldest. She is now alone in the house, alone in the island.
“This is a miserable feeling. How can I live without those children? Everyone will love their motherland. But how can they live here with their children?” Fathumaidhee reflected on both sides of the coin.
90 year old Moosa Ali is one of the oldest people on Thakandhoo. It has now been 35 years since the mother of his children passed away. Although he has been married more than once since her demise, none of the marriages lasted too long. A friendly man, Moosabe too is leading a lonely life, since most of his family members had migrated to the capital. His one happiness is that one child is living in the island with his children and family.
One of Moosabe’s main concerns is that due to the majority of residents migrating to other islands, the prospects of Thakandhoo being targeted for improved services seem unfavorable. There are no students to study in the island school. It also disappoints him that there are hindrances for development of healthcare provided on the island.
“Some people want this island to be deserted. I am sure of that. This is happening because there are some people who are pushing this”, Moosa opined.
It is almost 25 years since Khadheeja Adam’s husband passed away. It is said in the island that Khadheeja made great sacrifices to raise her children as a single mother, since her husband’s demise. All her children are now grown up and have families of their own. Although two of her children and their families live in Thakandhoom the rest have migrated to Male’.
Khadheeja is one of the elderly people who are most vocal in her opposition of the trend. Even in the area where her house is situated, hers is the only building where people live. Most days and all nights, there is not a sign of life in the area.
“Why don’t they think about that? Only a handful of old people remain on the island. Tell me. Is there anyone to help even if something happens?” she raised an important question.
It is now over 30 years since Aminath Gasim’s husband passed away. Her children are now grown up and trying to raise their own families. Aminath laments the absence of means for her children and grandchildren to get the services they need while on the island with her.
Her wish too is for the island to be repopulated, and mechanisms to be established whereby the services islanders seek on other islands are available in their own motherland.
It is hard for these senior citizens to live alone, away from loved ones, at the age they need their children and grandchildren the most. But there is a truth we need to accept. The young people did not migrate to places with better prospects because they wanted to, but because they needed to. No one wants to live, crammed in tiny apartments that cost large amounts of money. But they make this sacrifice because they need to, in order to provide better education, better healthcare and better employment opportunities.
Some other islands however do not reflect a similar state of affairs. Most islands with a population of approximately 1000 have do not have just measly 300 or so who reside on the island. More than 50 students study in the school. More than 20 students graduate each year. Primary schooling is provided.
This is what the senior citizens are complaining about. Why Thakandhoo? Is it not worth our while to find out the reason why some such islands are seemingly neglected while other islands with similar situations have been given all necessary services?