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
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