You Can Go Home Again

When Zaheena Rasheed '11 left her home in the Maldives—a territory comprising 1,191 islands in the Indian Ocean—to pursue a Middlebury education, she realized she wouldn't be able to return often. "I come from halfway around the world," she says,"It's never easy to go home."

This summer, however, the Davis UWC Scholar received funding from the Louis J. Kutzner '51 Internship Fund to work in President Mohamed Nasheed's office in the Maldives.

Zaheena Rasheed

Before coming to Middlebury, Zaheena had already met and established a relationship with President Nasheed, a founding member of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). During a gap year between Mahindra UWC of India and Middlebury in 2007, she worked as a planning and monitoring officer on an atoll development project. She was abruptly dismissed from her job after being seen at a MDP demonstration. Subsequently, she filed a civil suit for wrongful dismissal. Zaheena won her case—the first ever against the Ministry for unlawful dismissal. She then vowed to remain a civil rights activist and agent for political awareness, and has pursued these interests as a political science major at Middlebury.

As a communications consultant in the international media division
of the President's office, Zaheena spent her two month internship
focused on climate change. In March, the Maldivian government
announced its ambitious plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2020. Rising sea levels pose a direct threat to the archipelago, as one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. The Maldives' commitment to carbon neutrality has garnered extensive media attention, as it will become the first country to achieve such status if all goes according to plan.

A highlight of Zaheena's work in President Nasheed's office was coordinating the July visit of Bill McKibben, a Middlebury Scholar-in-Residence in the environmental studies program and founder of 350.org, an international grassroots organization dedicated to fighting the climate crisis through cutting carbon emissions. While in the Maldives, McKibben met with President Nasheeb to coordinate their carbon neutrality efforts and delivered a talk on climate change in preparation for the International Day of Climate Action scheduled for October 24. For Zaheena, McKibben's visit united her home country with Middlebury, affirming to her the significant role she is playing in the climate crisis.

“With such a young population in the Maldives, I felt valued. I knew I was playing a transformative role in the future of my country.”

Also as part of her internship, Zaheena created communications strategies surrounding the Maldives' commitment to carbon neutrality. She spent her days scripting public video messages for the vice president, sitting on the President's Climate Change Council, and contributing to governmental addresses and presidential speeches. She learned to write briefings and search for meaningful sound bites. She coordinated with the press to deliver messages quickly to the public.

Working in an office environment for the first time taught Zaheena about organization, time management, and ways to work well with colleagues. Her internship gave her a better understanding of the importance of networking and establishing strong connections with colleagues.

This experience confirmed to Zaheena that after graduation, she wants to return to the Maldives. "I now know I want to go back home. Whether I work in communications, journalism, public relations, or focus my energy on climate change, there are a lot of possibilities," Zaheena explains. "The Kutzner Internship gave me the plane ticket to go home, which opened up a world of opportunity for me in the future."