2015 Writing Workshop: MALDIVES

maldives-world-map-1963831111

Map of Maldives – Look for the red circle!

Every year I plan a Thanksgiving trip somewhere tropical and reserve a day out of my vacation to do a pro bono writing workshop / author school visit with kids. This year I chose the Maldive Islands off the coast of Sri Lanka. It took 19 hours in a plane, 1 hour in a seaplane, 13 hours in three different airports, a 45-minute Conrad Hilton sponsored speedboat, and a full bag of ginger chews to ward off sea sickness before I reached Dhigurah School where I was welcomed with fresh coconut water by Mrs. Shifana, the Australian-educated principal.

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Welcomed with coconut water by the principal, Mrs. Shifana

Dhigurah is a local island (i.e. no resorts, no foreigners) with about 500 Sunni Muslim inhabitants. Despite it being the first day of summer vacation on the day of my scheduled visit, 25 kids—ranging in age from 9 to 14—participated in the writing workshop. Rather than chill on the beach, their parents sent them back to school for the opportunity to improve their English and future job prospects. As I popped into the only air-conditioned classroom in the entire school, the children’s thoughts seemed elsewhere and their

The girls' side of the room

The girls’ side of the room

faces appeared less than thrilled. So with tempting turquoise seas on both sides of the school, I had to pull a few tricks out of my hat to keep the kids engaged. One of which was some writer-friendly competition of girls-against-the-boys.

We played a game developed by the Society of Young Inklings on building scenes and brainstorming details that evoke the five senses. Both teams were equally matched and highly competitive. So we ended up with a tie despite multiple tie-breaker attempts.

The boys side of the room

The boys side of the room

I was especially impressed with how competitive the girls were, how they duked out every point they earned, and by their expressed interest to one day study abroad.

 

Although the local language is Dhivehi, the kids had an excellent command of English due to a strong government-mandated English language curriculum that caters to the country’s economic dependence on tourism.

Shy girl

Shy girl

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to share the same opinion of building libraries and filling them with books. So the Dhigurah School does not have a library beyond the two books I donated: my debut novel, LARA’S GIFT, and Chelsea Clinton’s book, IT’S YOUR WORLD. As a result, the kids were not familiar with any of the books I cited in my author talk unless they had been made into a movie. Not surprisingly, the principal admitted that the biggest problem continues to be getting the kids to read outside of their assigned homework.

Girls after they won a point

Girls after they won a point

If you’re a teacher or librarian please do share the strategies your school uses to get kids to read more. I’ll be happy to pass them along to the principal at Dhigurah School.

 

If you’re an editor or publisher of children’s books and have some middle grade or older picture books to spare, would you be willing to send them to the children on Dhigurah Island?

School motto: Strive for Success with honesty

School motto: Strive for Success with honesty

Mrs. Shifana’s mailing address is Dhigurah School in care of the Conrad Hilton Maldives Resort, Rangali Island, South Ari Atoll, 20077, Republic of Maldives.

I have no doubt the books will be put to good use and that new readers will be born.

Thank you for your support!

 

Nest stop: Thailand 2016!

Bangkok

Bangkok

 

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