The demise of the stricken bulk-carrier, MV Wakashio, which ran aground on the coral reef off the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean was tragic but avoidable. It is now over a month since the vessel struck the coral reef on the southeast coast of the island on 25 July 2020 in an area of wetlands near a marine park, unleashing nearly 1000 metric tonnes of the 4000 tonnes of oil on board into the sea and causing an environmental disaster.

Jhayraz (Oudesh) Bhurtun

The authorities together with volunteers, NGOs and experts from France and Japan have been working together to manage the clean-up operation.

Work continues apace in order to save marine life and prevent the oil spilling further afield, putting the delicate flora and fauna of Mauritius at risk.  Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic which is still affecting many parts of the world, we are seeing the kindness, generosity and the length to which people will go to to help in times of crisis. Their efforts, ingenuity and unwavering determination are to be applauded. Just when the local community is beginning to emerge from the scars of COVID-19; to be hit by this disaster is a double blow and is tragic.

As news of the disaster reached many Mauritians overseas, concerned about the situation and in a spirit of solidarity they didn’t hesitate to mobilise and help in whatever ways they could from afar. Here in England, too, the news of the disaster came as a shock to the Mauritian diaspora. With lockdown and limited air travel enforced, the feeling was one of helplessness and frustration. We were unable to join our brothers and sisters with the clean-up operations and it hurt. In London, Shalini Ajoodha, saddened by the horrific scenes emerging via social media, decided to act and was inspired to launch her own crowdfunding initiative to raise money to help.

« I took a very deep breath… »

During the last fourteen years Shalini has volunteered for the Indian NGO “Embracing the World” (ETW). This is a global network of regional humanitarian organisations inspired by the humanitarian Mata Amritanandamayi- (Amma)*. Embracing the World http://www.embracingtheworld.org/ exists to help alleviate the burden of the world’s poor through helping to meet each of their five basic needs – food, shelter, healthcare, education, and livelihood wherever and whenever possible, and are especially focused on helping to meet these needs in the aftermath of major disasters. Seeing the devastation in Mauritius, Shalini, who is based in London, wondered whether she could really make a difference from so far away. She then thought about her experience volunteering with ETW and it gave her the confidence she needed.  “I took a very deep breath and decided on Saturday 8th August to at least put the effort forward. It was a scary and bold moment.” She devised the campaign and slowly started taking the first steps of asking for donations amounting to £15,000. With the help of other volunteers from ETW, family, friends and strangers the campaign snowballed via social media and reached the goal within twelve days. At time of writing the campaign has reached the £25,000 mark. Shalini has officially partnered with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) NGO https://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/

Shalini continues to reach out to those who are interested in donating, sharing that: “Mauritius is a small but stunning island. If you have been fortunate to visit, you will know that its natural beauty is breath-taking. As a luxury tourist spot there are many reasons people come from all over the world to visit including weddings and honeymoons. It is the perfect location for a paradise island holiday. It is the country of my heritage and I simply could not stand by and let the beautiful surroundings and wildlife get ruined by this devastating shipwreck.  I am so thankful to everyone who has shown support and given to my campaign to raise money for the “Mauritian Wildlife Foundation”. I will continue to work to raise money and awareness to help the much-needed clean-up efforts. »

Studies show that oil spills can lead to the gradual extinction of reptile populations over time. Thousands of years ago, the Dodo bird, endemic to the island, became extinct. It is critical that wildlife is protected and nurtured. Worryingly, the unknown consequences of the oil-spill will result in a magnitude of recovery work to save the endemic animals and marine life. MWF is actively responding and working tirelessly to protect and look after the environment. Amongst other aspects of life, Amma and Embracing the World places a huge focus on the importance of Nature and the environment. It therefore felt right for the attention to focus on this angle of the recovery.

Jean Hugues Gardenne, Fundraising and Communications Manager said on behalf of MWF: “We are very proud and grateful to Shalini for her brilliant efforts raising these crucial funds to support the rescue efforts in Mauritius. After reaching her first goal so quickly, we asked her to let the campaign roll and it is going from strength to strength. MWF is thankful to her for this fantastic achievement.”

*Amma Centre Mauritius in Quatre-Bornes has been involved in several humanitarian initiatives over the past few years helping the poor and needy in society.