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Small grants help alumni from the Maldives amplify the impact of COVID-19 responses

Posted: 25 March 2021

Maldives, COVID-19, Experience, Impact, Recipient,

Australia Awards alumni in the Maldives have been instrumental in contributing to the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To support alumni to have greater impact, Australia Awards launched a ‘Small Grants Scheme’ in September 2020 to amplify the sustainability of projects aligned with priority sectors identified in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

The grants scheme, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has provided AUD3000 each for five alumni projects (involving seven alumni) that are designed to support recovery from the impact of COVID-19. All five projects respond to the priority areas of economic recovery, health security and stability, while contributing towards gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, and social cohesion during economic recovery. The successful grant projects are profiled below.

Lead schoolteacher Fathimath Sauna (pictured above) used her grant to enhance the online learning capabilities of a private school in Meedho, Addu City, especially to support the learning outcomes of preschoolers and students with literacy difficulties. Sauna provided training to the school’s preschool teachers to improve their online teaching skills and supported them to achieve Google Certified Educator Level 1 training. Additionally, Sauna will use the grant to ensure the school has at least one digital device that can be used to provide online learning to students. Sauna also worked with teachers from five schools to create a set of ‘literacy packs’ for parents to borrow and use to help their preschool-aged children improve literacy skills at home.

“The grant familiarised preschool teachers with the concept of using literacy packs as a tool to develop literacy in preschool children. Teachers prepared the literacy packs, which are now used in their schools,” says Sauna. “In addition, the grant also helped create awareness among parents on internet safety issues, and awareness materials were developed and shared with parents and displayed in and out of the school premises.”

Sauna completed a Master of Education (Special Education) at Flinders University in 2014 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Associate Lecturer at the Maldives National University Mohamed Nimal will use the grant to provide fabric masks to migrants in the greater Malé region to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The design of the masks will incorporate risk communication messaging about COVID-19 in order to encourage social distancing and other safety measures. The fabric masks will indirectly expand ongoing efforts in communicating with the migrant community about the risks posed by COVID-19. The masks will also incorporate messaging for the local community to address discrimination faced by migrants and promote humanitarian values and social inclusion. The activity will be carried out with the support of the Migrant Support Center of the Maldivian Red Crescent – Malé Branch.

“Working on the COVID-19 national frontline during the first lockdown exposed me to a reality of the migrant community I had never seen and the vulnerable situations in which they are placed in our shared society. Often, they are more vulnerable due to the conditions they choose to or are forced to live in,” Nimal says.

“I was involved in setting up the Migrant Support Center of the Maldivian Red Crescent as a lead volunteer,” he explains. “I applied for the grant to ensure that vulnerable migrants have access to basic preventive measures against COVID-19, such as reusable masks and awareness messages to promote best practices and compliance in the community. I strongly believe that the messages on masks will be passed within the migrant community as well as accepted by our wider community, which will in turn help us to understand that their wellbeing is our wellbeing too. We all need to work together to serve the nation we are building for the future.”

Australia Awards alumnus Mohamed Nimal delivering an online awareness session

Nimal completed a Bachelor of Health and Rehabilitation Science at Charles Stuart University in 2013 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

The third grant was implemented by a group consisting of three Australia Awards alumnae: Khadeeja Shakir, Nursing Lecturer at the Maldives National University’s School of Nursing; Nayasheen Ahmed, Senior Research and Development Officer at the Housing Development Corporation Ltd; and Zeenath Shakir, Social Work Lecturer at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Maldives National University. The group will use their grant to pilot a project entitled ‘Helping home cooks achieve market share: linkages for partnership with local third-party delivery apps’.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has affected normal sources of livelihood, significant numbers of Maldivian women and youths have begun offering home cooking services to generate income. However, they often lack the financial, technological and marketing expertise to develop this business opportunity to its full potential. In addition, there are currently no global brands such as Uber Eats or Deliveroo operating in the Maldives to support delivery for such businesses. The grant-supported project aims to help existing private local delivery partners to provide a platform for home cooks in their service chain, thereby increasing the business value of both delivery partners and home cooks in a mutually beneficial manner.

Australia Awards alumnae Khadeeja Shakir, Nayasheen Ahmed and Zeenath Shakir

Speaking on behalf of the group, Khadeeja says, “While COVID-19 impacted both men and women in the country, several women started independent online small businesses to compensate for the job losses incurred due to the adverse effects on the economy. The ‘new normal’ circumstances have paved the way for innovation and digital technology, with several businesses moving into virtual spaces. It is vital that local women are accustomed to these new spaces to compete in today’s market. Hence, we intend to bridge local home cooks with local third-party delivery services and thereby enhance their small businesses and empower them to take advantage of digital technology through use of mobile delivery applications.”

Khadeeja completed a Master of Social Health and Counselling at Macquarie University in 2012, Nayasheen completed a Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management at Monash University in 2020 and Zeenath completed a Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne in 2016, all with the support of Australia Awards Scholarships.

The fourth activity grant was received by Gasith Mohamed, an agronomy and horticulture specialist, entrepreneur, and founder of agriculture consulting firm Agriconsulting Maldives. He used the grant to conduct short agricultural advisory programs for farmers and home gardeners through an online platform. The level of plant cultivation, gardening and farming in the Maldives has increased significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gasith’s grant activity responds to a growing need for high quality and context-specific information on plant production and management. The activity aims to provide agriculture information to farmers and home gardeners in an easily accessible manner, and is especially designed for those who do not have funds to participate in advisory programs.

Australia Awards alumnus Gasith Mohamed

Through the grant, Gasith intends to provide advisory information to producers and gardeners; bring farmers and home gardeners from various parts of the country together through an information-sharing platform to discuss and learn key practices in plant production; and demonstrate the correct method of fertiliser and pesticide application for home gardens and small farms.

“A lot of people in the Maldivian community have taken to working with plants for personal and economic reasons. I applied for the Small Grants Scheme to provide affordable and quality advisory service opportunities to help this tradition and assist those farmers and home gardeners that are in need,” says Gasith.

Gasith completed a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of New England in 2012 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

The final grant recipient, Khadheeja Majidha Hassan, Secretary General of Care Society, will work on a project that develops and disseminates inclusive awareness materials on COVID-19 safety and hygiene for people with disability and their carers. She plans to use the grant to produce five short videos for Care Society to promote the importance of safety precautions and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among people with disability and their families. The animated awareness videos will be widely accessible to people with disability and their carers, along with the public, as a way to raise awareness of the importance of safety precautions and promote inclusion of people with disability in the community.

“My affiliation with Care Society, an NGO that works for the empowerment of people with disability, allowed me to consider applying for the Small Grants Scheme. Care Society has been actively involved in the national COVID-19 response efforts, particularly providing psychosocial support to people with disability and the public in general. The priorities stated in Partnerships for Recovery also encouraged me to apply for this grants scheme to seek funds for a project that aims to support people with disability. The project will help to achieve this in a dual manner by creating content that is more accessible, and increasing dialogue on challenges faced by people with disability in society,” says Khadheeja.

Australia Awards alumna Khadheeja Majidha Hassan

Khadheeja completed a Master of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Queensland in 2014 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

The Small Grants Scheme was designed to assist proactive alumni in implementing activities that contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The objectives of the grants are to:

  • increase sustainability in the development objectives of the Maldives
  • combine capacities of skilled professionals to achieve common development objectives
  • establish a platform for sector specialists/organisations to develop linkages/consortiums that can continue to work with or without the support of a small grant.