Since retiring more than three years ago he has been in demand as an emergency high school teacher, but still found he had energy left for more volunteer work.
“I’d already done some volunteering in Vietnam, and found it very rewarding,” Richard says. “Fifteen years ago, my wife and I started hosting Japanese students so I’ve had a longstanding interest in cross-cultural exchange. I went to see Australian Volunteers International and they were particularly interested in me because of my CFA background: they knew I’d be good at pitching in and working in a team.
“I ended up being sent to the Maldives in 2005 as a tsunami volunteer. I lived on Kudahuvadhoo island 180 km away from the capital, Male, for five months. It’s only one kilometre in diameter with 10 small shops which managed to stock Australian milk and New Zealand apples. I had a bike and rode around and got to know all the locals very well. It was a very sociable time.”
The Maldives and its 1190 islands were devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami; it was the country with the third highest death rate per capita. The country’s average elevation is only one metre above sea level and at least six islands were destroyed while another 27 of the 200 or so inhabited islands had basic infrastructure destroyed. With a population of about 260,000, 12,000 people were relocated to other islands
“Everyone wanted to talk about the tsunami,” Richard continues. “They heard it coming and said the sound was deafening. Tuna fishing and boat building are the main jobs on the island and about 50% of the boats should head out to deep water in the event of a tsunami. Most of the fishermen can swim but Maldivian children generally don’t learn to swim.
“Things were moving ahead when I was there, though, and I got very involved in the life of the school. The children generally speak four languages and I was also teaching Japanese thinking it would help those interested in tourism jobs. There were some remarkable academic achievements in 2006. In the A-level equivalent exams, four students from my school came top in all the Maldives.”
Richard also organised an island clean-up day and encouraged parents to get more involved at school. He was an enthusiastic spectator at the local “India versus Pakistan” cricket match with many teachers participating.
Richard returned to the island in 2007 with resources donated by the community and fire brigade of Leopold: fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, fire blankets and wheelbarrows. He also serviced all the island’s fire extinguishers with the major fire risk being problems with gas. On Male, the capital, he handed CFA caps around and learned that the major fire risk there is boat fires.
“There had been huge improvements in those two years with 110 new houses finished thanks to Australian engineers and surveyors. The new pre-school, fish market and bank were all finished and the jetty, hospital extension and sewage pipes were half completed with a new school still to come. Workers from India and Bangladesh work 24 hours a day on the re-building with huge floodlights on at night.
“Tsunami help will be needed for the next 30 or 40 years. People on the island really appreciated the contribution from Leopold and now I’ve made the connections I’d like to keep the help going. I’m already planning my next visit.”
Anyone wanting to help the community on Kudahuvadhoo can contact Richard:
For further information on international volunteering, visit: