Published: June 28th 2012June 27th 2012
I arrived in the Maldives two days ago and all is well. Aside from my toes looking like little sausages from 21 hours on a plane and embarrassingly bawling my eyes out through the movie The Vow, the flights here were uneventful. Some of the other team members got stuck in Dubai due to delays at JFK on the first leg of their trip, but they ended up getting to do an awesome day tour there, so they were happy!
We decided that we needed to get a glimpse of the Maldivian culture prior to starting our training so that we are as culturally sensitive as possible. Maldives is very tourist driven and most of the islands that are open to tourists are filled with resorts. This is not the Maldives we wanted to see. We instead wanted to see the local community and learn more about our similarities and our differences. The amazing ladies at the Maldives Autism Association arranged for our team to tour a local island called Hurrah. We took an hour long boat ride to the island. Many of the people living on Hurra were born and raised there and it is common for the entire
family (including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents) to live under one roof. We were welcomed into the homes of the locals and they were extremely hospitable. They even carved out coconuts with fresh coconut water for each of us and it was so refreshing and tasty. After visiting some homes, we toured the only school on the island. We were very impressed! There were signs everywhere encouraging Character Education and the classrooms were very inviting and set up well. We learned that while there are not special services for children who have a disability, they teach children at their ability level. We then headed to a home where the children have Quran studies and an adorable 5-year-old boy read us a passage. He was so cute and proud!
The island has a very peaceful feeling to it and we were very thankful to have visited. We really enjoyed talking with the parents and other family members. We headed back to Bandos, where we are staying, just before sunset and enjoyed the incredible views of the Indian Ocean, surfers, huge manta rays, and other gorgeous islands. What a great day :)
The following day we started training. Our
morning commute consists of a 20 minute speed boat ride, which definitely beats my commute back home! We started the day with a presentation that was an introduction to Knowledge for People and to autism in general. After the intro, participants broke up into 2 groups--a group of all parents of children who have autism and a group of teachers and other professionals. The first session for the parents focused on stress management and was lead by Liz and Young. Several months ago, we surveyed the parents to find out what training they were hoping to receive from us. One of the top priorities, in addition to learning about different ways to help their child, was how to deal with the stress that comes with having a child who has autism. At first, the parents were reluctant to share their story about their child and their experience with autism so far. As the session progressed, more and more parents opened up and shared what they are going through. It was very moving. We learned that it is not common at all in their culture to talk about "feelings" or talk about what they are going through. We found that most
parents had a very difficult time getting a diagnosis and many of them ended up going to India or Sri Lanka to finally hear the word autism. They talked about the grief they feel. They talked about needing more support from their family and their community. They talked about hope. They seemed excited about starting a support group amongst themselves--something that doesn't exist in the Maldives.
The rest of the sessions while we are here consists of advanced training of evidence based therapies for the teachers at the Maldives Autism Association (MAA), training for teachers and professionals from all around the Maldives, diagnostic training for doctors and psychiatrists, and one-on-one consultations for parents who have their child on the waiting list for MAA (there are 30+ families on the list!). Some of these families have never received any type of service or consultation and they were grateful for the information we provided them.
We had another full day of training today, which I will write about later.
Thanks for reading :)
There are more photos below