Kate Istead - Canada

Friday 28, September 2012

Volunteer Maldives gets it. Though there are lots of organizations out there that do what they do, few do it with the integrity, commitment or skill of the team at VM. Right from day one they've been answering my endless emails and supporting my journey. Even when things changed last minute, they managed the changes smoothly and without complaint. Though a 6 week conservation program in Maldives turned into 3 weeks of conservation in Sri Lanka and 3 weeks of teaching in Maldives, and all within a week of anticipated arrival, Shakila didn't miss a beat and organized everything perfectly. I felt supported every step of the way. The projects they arranged for me were both enlightening and valuable and the team at VM was available around the clock to support me in each location. Just as they humbly accepted praise, they genuinely listened to my concerns. More importantly, I felt that both were acted upon with equal attention.

The project in Sri Lanka, though in my opinion not motivated by the correct factors, exposed me to new ideas about the operation of NGOs and for this I am grateful. Despite my reservations, it's pretty hard not to wake up every morning excited about the opportunity to see 100 new baby turtles swimming about in the tanks. I am also now a part of the small percentage of people who can offer commentary on how hard a green turtle bites or the fact that yes, a sea turtle can slap you. There is no experience filled with more mixed emotions than watching baby sea turtles scramble out to sea, feeling hopeful that they will make it and knowing that fewer than 10% of them will. The men who work at the project became my brothers and not only taught me the lesson that life is both good and bad, but were living examples of how to accept both with equal grace.

Comment from Volunteer Maldives: The Turtle project has since been changed following the invaluable feedback from Kate and we now work with an amazing NGO whos programs are fantastic and for the right reasons.

In the Maldives, I was incredibly lucky to be placed with such an engaged and supportive community. Though I came to teach at the school, they were receptive to my concerns over the growing waste management problem and even offered me the chance to meet with island council to discuss the issue. That sort of opportunity doesn't happen very often. Teaching must be one of the hardest professions in the world and nothing has made me appreciate my teachers in the past as much as my present opportunities to teach. Under the direction of an incredibly supportive faculty and motivated by the keen brilliance of the children, I think it would be hard to leave Maroshi feeling you were inadequate as a teacher. I was given the freedom to teach in the ways I teach best: by being creative, and by being just as much a teacher to the students as a student to their teaching.

When I started my year of volunteering, I didn't plan on going to Sri Lanka and I didn't even know Maldives existed. It wasn't until I zoomed in on the map (literally) that I found these tiny, almost imperceptible islands in the context of the globe. Volunteer Maldives took me to both and thanks to them, these small islands in the Indian Ocean, dwarfed by the rest of the world, have filled a pretty big space in my heart.

Name: Katherine Istead
Island(s): Sri Lanka, Maldives
Duration: 3 weeks each.