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Alumni & FriendsAlumna Patricia Stevenson sorts through books and other teaching materials in a preschool in the Maldives. She is shown working with two employees of the school

 

 

In the Wake of the Tsunami
Relocating to an island in the Indian Ocean may sound like a dream come true, but when Patricia Stevenson (B.A., '85) stepped off a plane in the Maldives last year, she quickly learned even paradise has its problems.

Stevenson is working as a land-use planner in the Maldives through Voluntary Service Overseas, a British charity similar to the Peace Corps. She is helping with reconstruction in the wake of the devastation left by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

During her two-year stay, she faces the daily challenge of helping to provide clean water, reliable electricity, an adequate sewage system and garbage disposal to the islanders. Many of the natives are still living at basic subsistence levels.

"Some people use the beach as a toilet," Stevenson writes in an e-mail exchange. "Many women bring their pots, pans and dishes and wash them in the sea."

The Maldives, which lie to the west of Sri Lanka, are made up of 1,190 islands with maximum elevation of 8 feet above sea level. The combined population is 270,000. Stevenson lives on the third largest island, Kulhudhuffushi, where there is no sewer system and the power station runs on diesel fuel.

Since the tsunami hit, many redevelopment plans previously in place have been put on hold due to lack of funds. The Maldives suffered few deaths as a result of the tsunami, but the tragedy caused enormous damage to the tourist industry and left 20,000 residents homeless.

"I always wanted to work in developing countries," Stevenson says. "My professors [at SFSU] inspired me and gave me the courage to have a go-for-it attitude. I guess without that willingness to take chances I would have never come to the Maldives."

After graduating from SFSU with a degree in sociology, Stevenson did post-graduate studies in town planning at Oxford, England, while working for the Oxford City Council Planning Department before she joined the VSO.

In addition to land-use planning, Stevenson is working on a list of community projects in the Maldives which includes fundraising to rebuild a preschool damaged during the tsunami.

For more information: www.vso.org.uk

-- Tracie White

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