The Maldives: A Brief Guide
The Maldives is a double-chain of coral atolls made up of 2041 distinct coral reefs forming 25 natural atolls, and is located in a north to south direction on the Laccadives-Chagos submarine ridge in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives stretches along 860 km and is 80-120km wide.
The country itself consists of 1192 small islands, 200 of which are currently inhabited. This leaves plenty of uninhabited islands to visit! By land area, the Maldives is the sixth smallest sovereign state in the world, with an estimated 235 km2 of land divided over 1190 islands. This figure includes 11-13 km2 of beach and 9-11 km2 of reclaimed land. Land area is about 1% of the total reef area. The capital of Male, is an urban metropolis crammed onto a relatively small island. Do not fear, however, as the island on which Island Volunteer operates is the complete opposite of this…
The island of Hoadedhdhoo is located in the Huvadhoo Atoll of the Maldives. This atoll, which is the third most southern in the Maldives, is the largest natural atoll in the world and is located just above the equator. Hoadedhdhoo lies on the western edge of the atoll, around 8 miles north of the equator. The island is home to around 1200 people (2006 National Census), who spend the majority of their time fishing, playing football or the traditional Maldivian sport of ‘Bashi’, and relaxing!
The inhabitants of Hoadedhdhoo are extremely friendly and provide a warm welcome to all visitors. They are grateful for the work which volunteers do and have no trepidation in including them in their daily activities. Volunteers can get an authentic feel for Maldives life here, and it is certainly not an opportunity to pass up!
Sunshine and cloudless days with a pleasant breeze blowing off the ocean is the defining weather forecast for the Maldives. The two distinct seasons in the Maldives are the wet and dry monsoon seasons, which make planning what to bring and when to do activities a relatively easy task. The temperature rarely wavers from around 30°C all year round, so expect to be constantly in shorts and flip-flops at all times! This does, however, make packing sun-cream an absolute necessity. Even when rainfall mars the perfect weather, the temperature is still high enough to wander round in shorts. And taking a stroll in a tropical downpour is a must-do, particularly for visitors from colder climes.
Our volunteers stay with residents, and take their meals in the local café, and work closely with our other volunteers or members of the community. Friendship comes easily to the people of Hoadedhoo, and you will have no trouble with being accepted into the community. You will while away evenings and weekends with your new friends, relaxing and chatting in either local residences, one of the cafés on the island, or in one of the picturesque outdoor areas.
Island life, however, is quite different from other parts of the world. Hoadedhoo, like the rest of the Maldives, is 100% Muslim, and this plays a large role in everyday life. Many of the islanders are traditionalists, and volunteers will need to adhere to their rules and beliefs. Often this does not interfere with life, although for women there tend to be rather more restrictions. For example, clothes that expose the shoulders or have a low neckline are not allowed in public areas. Acceptance of the beliefs of the islanders will play a major role in your adaptation to island life, but their warm and friendly nature should endear you to them and boundaries between different religions and cultures will be easily knocked down!
Another important thing to note is the language spoken. All Maldivians are taught English from a very young age, and therefore the majority of people you meet will be able to hold conversations with you in English. Still, don’t let this stop you learning the local language in a bid to broaden your horizons! It’s called Dhivehi, and is derived from several other Asian languages. The residents of Huvadhoo speak a slightly different version of the language to the rest of the Maldives, so expect differences in different atolls.
Our organization is an NGO operating in Huvadhoo Atoll. We provide help to myriad citizens around the Huvadhoo Atoll, and have been doing so since 1986. Huvadhoo Aid exists to enable the rural people to work effectively in promoting and advancing the interests of the rural community of the Maldives to attain basic needs. We work to build a united and strong community for the advancement of the island. We base our actions to enable the community and NGOs to effectively promote and advance the interests, well-being of island community, and improve the effectiveness of the NGOs serving the community. Especially we seek to strengthen our actions for poverty alleviation in the community by promoting equity and equality.
We work closely with prestigious organizations such as UNDP, UNODC, UNFPA and AusAID, and also other NGOs and councils on both Hoadedhdhoo and the rest of the atoll. Huvadhoo Aid (often written as HAD) currently consists of around 280 members, all of which are volunteers. We run the pre-school on the island, which is located in the old house of one of our founding members, and we employ 4 teachers in the school. In the nearby secondary school, we frequently run awareness to improve the pupil’s awareness and personal skills.
After your flight into the country, a domestic flight will be arranged for you from Malé to Hoadedhdhoo. One of our members will be waiting to greet you at Malé airport, to escort you to our island and to give you your welcome pack. After landing in the Gaaf Dhaal Atoll, transport to the island of Hoadedhdhoo will be arranged, either by Dhoni or by speedboat. Flying across the waves on a speedboat just as the sun is setting is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry! Transport within the island will more often than not be on foot, although if you are feeling particularly lazy many of the locals will be happy to give you a ride on the back of their motorbike or pick-up truck! As Huvadhoo Aid don’t just operate on Hoadedhdhoo, it will be necessary to take trips to other islands to liaise with other NGOs or councils. These trips will usually be made by Dhoni or speedboat, and will be fully paid for by Huvadhoo Aid.
The majority of the sockets on the island use the UK 3-pin system, so for visitors from other parts of the world, bringing a couple of adaptors with you will be a necessity. The power station on the island provides electricity around the clock, although there are occasional, brief blackouts.
Currency and Banking
Maldivian currency is the rufiyaa (mrf), with exchange rates running at around 4GBP to100 rufiyaa. Notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 denominations, and there are also coins for 1 and 2 rufiyaa. Money stretches a lot further out here, with the prices of general goods and expenses such as mobile phone top-ups being relatively cheap. Volunteers should look to bring roughly 500-1000mrf per week of their stay, to cover expenses and the occasional extra activity. Expenditure on the island throughout your stay will usually be very low. Currency (in particular USD) can be exchanged with locals or members of Huvadhoo Aid at a decent exchange rate, or alternatively money can be taken out at the ATM on the nearby island of Thinadhoo. Unfortunately there is no ATM or bank here on Hoadedhdhoo.
Travellers’ cheques and credit/debit cards will not be accepted on Hoadedhdhoo or other local islands, so please ensure you bring some petty cash with you if you do not intend to visit Thinadhoo. Before you flight, it would also be prudent to check current exchange rates.
The Constitution of the Maldives designates Islam as the official state religion. Freedom of religion is restricted significantly. The law prohibits the practice by Maldivian citizens of any religion other than Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religion only privately. Visitors must also refrain from encouraging local citizens to practice any religion other than Islam. Freedom of religion remains severely restricted.
Volunteers staying with us will be provided with their own lockable room with a double bed and en-suite bathroom, either in our office building (which can comfortably house up to 10 volunteers) or with a resident elsewhere on the island. We recognize that volunteers sometimes require privacy, so we do our best to provide this.
Accommodation is not extravagant, but basic and homely. All rooms are fitted with a ceiling fan to moderate the hot temperatures at night. Bedding will be provided for you, but you will need to bring your own towels. The showers on the island all run on cold water, although more often this comes as a welcome relief!
Breakfast – a traditional Maldivian breakfast consists of Roshi (thin bread and a fish mixture), which is certainly a filling way to start the day! For those who are missing home comforts, toast and jam, omlette, fried egg and sausage are all available.
Lunch/Dinner – A typical meal consists of either rice or noodles, mixed with onions, tuna, and other vegetables. Fish curry and fish soup are also specialties available. A range of sauces to spice up meals is provided, and bowls of salad and poppadoms are frequent accompaniments to meals.
Afternoon Tea – A great Maldivian tradition is their afternoon tea, where friends get together to enjoy a cup of black tea and “hedika”. Hedika consists of small snacks, such as samosas and pieces of sponge cake, each of which are really quite filling!
Coffee, ice water, coke and juice are all readily available, and if volunteers have other preferences these can be purchased from the local shops. Vegetarian options are available to those who don’t eat meat or fish, and fruit is also provided.
Most internet on the island is provided through dongles (either Dhiragu or Wataniya), which allow users convenient, albeit often slow, access to the internet. Dongles can be purchased from Thinadhoo for the cost of around 1000mrf, although several will be available for use in Huvadhoo Aid’s office. Wifi can also be accessed in certain locations around the island, provided by the mast on the neighbouring island of Madeveli.