From Dreams to Achievements - Maryam Waheedha

Monday 10th of August 2020

From Dreams to Achievements - Maryam Waheedha

Maryam Waheedha shares her story with Coral Glass in a pleasant conversation. Simple as Mary may be, her work life can be very hectic. We get to know about how she balances work with the little joys of life.

Maryam Waheedha was not your average kid. She was lively growing up, running around climbing trees in the neighborhood with her brothers. They didn’t have present day pleasures like computers or internet back in the day. However, this didn’t stop them from having a fun childhood. On the other hand, our day can simply be ruined with slow internet. Oh, how the times have changed!

Mary belonged to a family with a sporty background. It reflected on her as well. In school, her grades were above average, but her sports scores soared high. She started in English Primary School and moved to Aminiya School in fourth grade. Mary laughingly mentioned having to take the entry exam thrice to pass, a memory she remembers well.

“I’m not a future obsessed person. I believe that the moment matters.’ – Mary

Even as a kid, Mary knew what she liked and worked hard for it. Academic competition among students evidently existed in school. Mary thought differently about it. She believed that if she liked what she was working for, her full potential will show. Of course being ambitious academically is a very good thing, but it just was not her thing. She put more effort into the subjects she liked than those which were not so interesting to her. A lot of her effort went in to sports, which is why she finished school as the Captain of Rehendhi House.

School played an important role in shaping Mary’s personality. She made a lot of friends playing sports and was accepted, which helped her gain confidence from others. She learnt a great deal about communication skills, one that has been a key skill in her life. Today, Mary is among the most favorite MC for events, and a familiar face from TV.

Following her O’Levels, Mary joined CHSE. She along with others, were all waiting for the results that determined the few whom were granted a prestigious scholarship. Half way through 11th grade, Mary’s father offered her a chance to go abroad and study in India. Instead of waiting for a scholarship, she decided that taking the chance to leave for higher studies was the smarter choice. Mary says that she is not obsessed with the future. She had it in mind that she could change course to her liking if she took the chance and left then. For her, the moment mattered and her opportunity was at that moment.

Mary did her Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Political Sciences and Sociology with Honors in English Language. She returned back home after the course and joined Ministry of Finance for a brief time to get work experience before leaving soon for a Master’s Degree. She spent 2 and a half years in Norwich, UK specializing in Development Studies. Her research was based on Gender and Development. Mary joined Ministry of Planning upon her return where she served for 11 years. She played a key role was in leading the Public Sector Investment Program which demanded a lot of technical work involving budgets, economics and so on.

One fine day, when working in the Ministry of Finance, Mary was selected in a group to attend the SAARC Summit for protocol. The young crowd was excited to be involved in the event because they got to wear ‘Dhigu Hedhun’ and coordinate on walkie talkies. Little did Mary know that she was about to discover her biggest passion too. Mary came to know about an opening in TVM as a part time News Presenter. She tried out at 19 years old and since then, her career has took off on a rollercoaster of ups and downs.

Mary had not practiced for the first interview and made a number of mistakes reading the news. She was asked to stay home but her spirit was not dampened at all. Mary doesn’t believe in giving up on the things that she is passionate about. She kept on practicing until she finally got a call back. With her career in media, Maryam Waheedha became a household name.

In the beginning, Mary had no knowledge of the gist of media at all. She spent many years presenting the news and learning in the process. After a while of familiarization, she wanted to give creative programming a try. Mary had a vision to see more programs that took presenters outside the basic studio with 2 people in it. She believed that if proper research was allowed, media can come up with creative programs that connected the audience with stories of their own people. This proved to be a very challenging project to take on.

Do you remember watching ‘Bandharu Mathin’ show on TV? When the show aired on TVM, it immediately gained audience approval. It was a big step away from the traditional TV programs from then. It took Mary to the bustling harbors of Male’ where she gives a random person the opportunity to take a trip with her. People associate the show to Mary even now.

“I wanted to show other people’s life more than just statistics on TV” – Mary

The back story of the show is even more interesting. Mary and her crew had to do a lot of convincing to the producers to get the show going. She herself had to believe that sponsors will invest in the show, audience will like the concept and that it was doable. Mary was insistent to bring local issues such as economics, development, gender issues and more in to TV programs. She also took part in classic shows such as ‘Heyyambo’. It was another learning experience but her favorite work in media was always going outdoors, travelling and connecting with people.

Mary has been working in media for over 20 years now. We asked about her biggest achievements so far and the National Award she won for Media and Development Strategy speaks for itself. In addition, Mary highly regards the work done in producing a syllabus for ‘Advanced Anchoring and Presenting’ Media studies, taught currently in Maldives National University. In the earlier days, there were no means to study media or any material to refer to for further information.

Mary put her interest in academia into effect and compiled a syllabus based on her own knowledge and literature review. The syllabus filled an empty chapter in the national curriculum for those interested in studying media. Many faces across various channels on TV today are graduates from the courses that teach Mary’s syllabus. It makes her proud to have shared her knowledge and even taught the courses herself for 5 years.

Mary had been involved in almost all types of programs on TV possible. The ample opportunities working with diverse people in different environments and for individual concepts made her mind open up to the potential and responsibilities of being involved in media and journalism. Media doesn’t only have to be about politics. There is a lot more you can do in terms of creativity to bring important information to audiences in a manner that they will understand and accept it.

“It is my best achievement to help produce independent and promising talent into media.” – Mary

According to Mary, being a journalist in media is a very responsible job. Media tells the stories from around the world to people. Nowadays, you see a lot of statistics being thrown at you on TV but not enough shows explaining situations and empathizing with the audience. Simple communication lacks majorly in most programs. Despite all the challenges, Mary is hopeful that the situation is changing with promising and dedicated youth stepping into the field.

One of the most interesting chats we had was about challenges faced by women in the work environment. Mary mentions that irrelevant of where they are in the world, women are grilled for their actions simply because of their gender. In the Maldives back when Mary started working, not a lot women held authoritarian positions. She herself had been victim to demotivating verbal harassment in the work place.

The simple things Mary was told like, “You can’t do it!” was hurtful. Smartly enough, Mary was not agitated easily. She challenged herself to show up to the task, perform it outstandingly and prove to herself that others who doubted her were wrong. She had the will to try harder and she urges our youth to have the same attitude.

When challenged, the outcome of the situation depends on how one handles herself. People were not as aware back in the days which is the reason why Mary thinks that harassers didn’t fear to do so. Gender issues and difficulties women face have exaggerated over the years. Anyways, the good news is that with the progress of social media platforms, people today are courageously calling out bullies.

“The simple things they tell you is very hurtful. Take it as a challenge instead.” – Mary

Mary continued on to share her thoughts on how the situation could be best handled. It is not only the problems that come up in the moment that should be solved. To address the bigger picture, an integrated system should be put in place which can continue to function and get better over time. It can be created with the expertise of all sectors such as Police, Courts, Cabinets, Healthcare professionals and all others involved. It is high time that a system of reliable response is established in this country.

Media’s role in helping ensure that sensitive issues in the society are looked into and those responsible do their job well, is very important. Mary is concerned about how news that comes one day is forgotten on the same day, next week. If media does follow-up journalism, collectively with the society, they can keep pushing through for solutions. Everyone involved in the system and the society has their own role. We all just need to make a sincere effort towards a better tomorrow.

Appointed as the Head of the Broadcasting Commission of Maldives was something Mary never even thought would happen when she started out as just a part time news presenter. If anyone asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered that she wanted to be Staff Nurse. We can say Mary was a go-get-it kind of girl. She always had two goals in mind that she ultimately worked for.

“I wanted to stand up on my own feet and be financially independent.” – Mary

During the 11 years spent studying abroad and living in hostels, Mary would sit by the window a lot and dream about her future. She did not know what to do or where to go to achieve the dream, but she knew the process would unfold in its own time. With her experience Mary came to know that things people consider highly such as jobs are actually temporary. One has to work hard for means to be independent and confidently approach the day head-on. Even as a woman, the deal meant double to her.

So how does Mary do it? She competes with herself. Mary says that your colleagues are competition but you must respect their work and achievements. Knowledge about skill and tactics is give and take, but if you work on improving yourself, one thing after the other will get done successfully.

Our generation has been cultivated to follow a uniform trend throughout our childhood. It is so embedded into our minds that it actually takes a daredevil to think differently. Mary can see change happening for the better if youth today would take a break from the confined circles they are in, and start thinking individually. If we are free enough to experiment with different things, such as different fields of work or connect with people from different countries, our mindset will change. For Mary, that is her secret to success.

Mary was out exploring creative media, socializing in hostels, doing corporate jobs in her time as a youth. The opportunities opened her mind to a greater world view, and taught her how to empathize with people. Mary stressed on the fact that she too failed a number of times, but she always tried again, put in more effort. It is okay if you don’t have solid objectives either as long as you are motivated to get things done.

“It’s the little things that round up to make big successes.” – Mary

Now you might think that our conversation was all about serious topics of discussion. In a change of tone, we found out about how Mary was like on her days off. Like every other productive person, Mary starts her day in the early hours. Black coffee is essential to get through the day. She spends her self-time reading, and loves to read philosophy hence a favorite is Rumi. Another favorite is spending time with her friends and family who have been a huge support system for her. The most important person for Mary is her son Hawi with whom she loves spending time playing and learning together.

A busy day for Mary now is packed with Zoom calls, contracted meetings, travel and office hours. At home, you can find her in the kitchen mostly. Mary loves to cook and her family calls Mary’s Special Chicken Fried Rice their staple food. Personally, she loves seafood. Apart from everything, a special project Mary is working on now is to release 2 books she had written, one on Public Speaking and the other for her son Hawi, by September. Given the circumstances, it might go up online too and we are looking forward to have read! She also wants to see a Braille Center for the blind come up soon, another project she is collaborating on establishing.

Growing up, our role models play a huge role in shaping our mentality. Mary looked up to her Mother, who always encouraged her to do better. She was not too educated but her managerial skills and wish for her children to achieve big pushed Mary to work hard. Her mother believed that education is important to achieve success in life. She was also a humble reminder to Mary that no matter where you are and what you do, nothing is more important than your roots.

Mary stays connected to her roots. It is not only about religion, you also have to do your part in serving the nation. This is part of the reason why she came back to Maldives after her higher studies even though she got opportunities to work abroad. Mary’s Mothers words were paramount to her at times when she was feeling low. She gained courage from the advice of her mother to always follow her heart and go the extra mile in doing the job right. Your goal must be to prove your passion to yourself, not others.

“Everyone should become something. It may not be exactly what you wanted but you can become the next best thing.” – Mary’s Mother

Some lessons were learnt the hard way for Mary. At times when she needed the back-up of her colleagues, they turned their backs on her. And as she was progressing in her career, there were noticeable distancing in close peoples behaviors towards her. A lot of us face similar situations. Mary kept her positive thinking up. She understands that every person has their own mindset and decisions to take for themselves. Maybe their situation was different at the time. In any case, Mary wanted to come out more kind and appreciative of others.

As youth of the 21st century, our lives are not any easier. As teenagers we just want to have fun but move ahead in life and we have a bunch of responsibilities thrown at us. Mary shared words of advice that could be of help.

It is always important to have a confidential circle of people with whom you can share everything with. Being able to communicate helps improve mental health. Battling mental health issues can be tough, especially for young adults. Though means to socialize maybe limited to our phone screens during the pandemic, we should come up with creative ways to have a bit of fun too. Mary recommends getting into an exercise routine, get that blood pumping. When you are active, you have more energy to get work done on time.

Mary had some work or the other to do 24x7 in her earlier days and she warns that this can be destructive. In her theory, having a strong work ethic is good but we must be alert not to let it send us to depression. Me-time, time with friends and family and some time to do nothing is highly recommended by Mary. The nation needs its upcoming youth to have a strong mental capacity and good health.

So what if you could not achieve one goal? Move on to the next best thing and do it better. This has been a mantra for Mary in her life. Many a times, we all tend to overthink about important tasks. We imagine everything that can go bad and procrastinate on actually doing the work. Mary says that being positive is a new trend the society should make. If we can strengthen our communication with each other, lend a helping hand and get up with a grab-it mindset every day, half the battle is already won.

There are opportunities waiting around the corner. Mary wants our youth to put in just a little bit more effort into finding them and figuring out where they want to be in the future. If the future is unsure, try to achieve something now. If you concentrate on the present moment, it can easily lead you to the next one. We belong from a small nation where promising talent can be found in every other house. This sure makes things a lot more challenging than when Mary started working in the field, but if we remain attentive to our goals, getting things done will not be impossible. Believe in yourself.

“While you enjoy your life, also keep a focus. If somebody says something demotivating, know that at the end of the day, it’s you who matters.” – Mary