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.
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.