The Maldives is known as a luxury holiday destination, it’s beautiful turquoise seas and blue skies provide a picture-perfect backdrop. Conversely, income inequalities and the availability of jobs are a major concern for the local population, especially those in isolated atolls. The economy is highly dependent on tourism, so the country has faced widening inequalities since the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic.
Life for a Child’s Education Manager, Cecile Eigenmann recently travelled to the island nation to take part in the Diabetes Society of Maldives’ youth camp. Here, she shares a bit about her time there.
From the moment I landed at Malé Airport, I felt a warm welcome from the friendly staff at the Diabetes Society of Maldives. Our local champion in the country is Aishath Shiruhana, but everyone calls her Shiru. She is the society’s CEO and a strong force for change in diabetes care in the Maldives. Shiru led the organization of the five-day camp, which hosted 21 young people, mostly aged between 14 and 25 years old. The group would learn about diabetes management, connect, share experiences, and have fun, in a safe and supportive environment. Many came from the main island Malé but some had to travel a long distance from the outer islands.
The program started with a boot camp on Monday morning at 6am sharp! From there, the activities flowed – educational presentations, group discussions and presentations by the campers, games, sightseeing, socialising, and networking. I gave a presentation on the importance of self-blood glucose monitoring and regular screening, a suitable topic since Life for a Child provides meters and strips to many young people registered with the society.
It was lovely to see how well the young people bonded during the camp. Some already knew each other, but for some it was the first time they had ever met another person living with type 1 diabetes.
I learned from Shiru that the society struggled to stay open during COVID. They lost financial support from local sources, due to the collapse of the tourism industry, which accounts for two-thirds of the Maldives’ GDP. Shiru expressed sincere gratitude to Life for a Child for the emergency COVID funding we provided – it kept them afloat. Funds are still scarce, so many of the staff are working in a volunteer capacity.
At camp, I watched friendships blossom and saw many ‘lightbulb moments’, which really underlined the importance of peer support and connection. I was so impressed by how much thought and effort the campers put into organising and presenting the closing ceremony, which was full of fun and laughter. The notion that the Diabetes Society of Maldives could have gone under, and this camp wouldn’t have taken place, is a terrible thought.
As I prepared to leave the group, I encouraged the campers to keep in touch and continue to support each other, not to be afraid to ask for help and, most importantly, to follow their dreams.
You can help Life for a Child support young people living with diabetes by making a donation.