Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thilmeeza Hussain: An Islander Confronts Global Issue

By Colin English

Rarely is the world graced by an individual in which youth does not delay the development of wisdom and  personal experience to drive the world forward. On Thursday, January 30th, such an individual visited Ramapo College to educate our students on the plight of the Maldives and its connection to global climate change. Speaking to a variety of students in the undergraduate and masters Environmental programs, and a room filled with an impressive cumulative knowledge of socio-environmental issues, Thilmeeza Hussain surprised even the veterans of the discipline.

By her 30s, she has assisted a new democracy, formed in 2008 in the Maldives, as its Northern Regional Minister; she represented the small island chain in the United Nations as its Deputy Permanent Ambassador; she spearheaded efforts to change the global discussion on women’s rights and climate change; and she founded a non-profit organization named Climate Wise Women to search for success on different sociopolitical fronts.

Thilmeeza offered a unique frame of sustainability and global climate change because of her experience in international politics and decision making, her efforts to implement social and environmental change through a new democratic leadership position, and due to her time spent finding the synthesis between various human channels of activity and the environment.

Amidst pictures of colorful corals and aquatic life, she provided stern messages of hard lessons learned. The islands' democratic administration that fought so diligently to improve the social and environmental realities of both the Maldives and the world was brutally overthrown and its citizens beaten in the streets. Amidst a room of learned students and professionals, Thilmeeza provided harsh reminders that institutions like the U.N. continue to ignore women like herself.

To an observer, that may seem like the dismal reality we find ourselves in. Efforts for a sound common understanding of climate and women’s issues are often squandered at the hands of corruption and limited foresight. Democratic governments filled with youthful aspirants and lofty goals for a better world are torn down as quickly as they ascended. And after all the cries for help from the Maldivian people about losing their homes and islands to slow-acting climate impacts, they are continually ignored by governments, international regulation, and other communities. After people like Thilmeeza have persistently engaged the world throughout multiple venues to attempt to validate their need for survival, they are held under the physical and metaphorical rising tide.

Still, there is hope, there is resilience, and there is a spirit that Thilmeeza embodied in her lecture. In between the failures and set backs she relayed to our audience, two messages stood out. The first: “Survival is non-negotiable.” The Maldivian people refuse to back down to the sea of water and official debate about their doom: they will continue to show the world that survival is the only path of action and a healthier approach to climate the only consequence. The second, a chant used in public protests of the Maldivian government: “Kuriah, Kuriah, Baarah, Kuriah!” Neither beatings by brutal regimes nor the apathetic ignorance of other nations will keep the Maldivian people from leading the global charge against social and environmental injustice, “faster, faster, forward, faster.”

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