Meeting real persons, not books

The attitude and behaviour of students and young adults are vital. Social contact is the best way to tackle issues of prejudice, discrimination and stigma

The Right 2 Smile Foundation has helped people in Cambodia, Kenya and India and it includes around 120 volunteers who wish to contribute more to society (Photo: Right2Smile)
The Right 2 Smile Foundation has helped people in Cambodia, Kenya and India and it includes around 120 volunteers who wish to contribute more to society (Photo: Right2Smile)

One of the more famous quotes adopted by “The Human Library” is ‘Do not judge a book by its cover’. The Human Library is an international organization that promotes an inclusive way to challenge prejudice through personal contact. In fact the Human Library is a place where one can “borrow” real people to discuss prejudices through dialogue and personal experiences that help overcome discrimination and marginalisation.

Last week our boys’ secondary school of St Thomas More College organised a Human Library event in Malta. I felt honoured to be invited and lucky to have actually met the ‘books’, who are all dedicated volunteers who have felt the magic of being on the projects and who have been moved to continue contributing and receiving so much energy back. Speakers at this event were invited to share their experiences with the students directly.

Marco Cremona, a hydrologist by profession, was one of the members of the first Maltese group to climb Mount Everest in 2010. I am sure that the sheer cold as well as extreme weather conditions and altitude would discourage many of us. Mr Cremona stressed that that particular expedition did not change his outlook on life but it has helped him in other areas.

Other speakers were Joseph Zammit who was previously obese and who had to struggle to overcome the problem; Fabio Spiteri, a long distance triathlon athlete who was also crowned national champion, and Fr Joe Ciappara, a priest and a volunteer rescuer with the Civil Protection Department who spoke about the significant and important service to Maltese society. Fr Joe gave an account of his experiences with the CPD in providing a service to society, sometimes even at the risk of endangering their lives. Under his monk’s habit he wears the CPD uniform, always prepared to rush and help people in danger. He says he prays at two altars: the one in church and the one wherever there is danger and he is needed. 

Rimona Mifsud, a breast cancer survivor and Joseph Sciberras, a farmer from Mizieb near Manikata, spoke about their experiences and what they have learned from them. Joseph Sciberras switched to organic farming some years ago and is now a certified organic farmer. Rimona was truly inspirational and told the students: you have a stark choice in life – either give up or fight and live to serve others. She has continued to fight and serve others even though she had three breast cancers in the last 15 years.

Another young man spoke very frankly about his upbringing where he found no love and how his life has been transformed after his decision to change his life. He now has a girlfriend who loves him and a steady job waiting for him when he leaves the correctional facility in Corradino and praised the help he received through the RISe Foundation.

Another speaker, Christine Micallef spoke about her missionary work in Guatemala and was more than pleased to share her experiences with both students and teachers present. Damien Attard, the Director and Project Manager of the Right 2 Smile Foundation also addressed those present.

This foundation has helped people in Cambodia, Kenya and India and it includes around 120 volunteers who wish to contribute more to society. The Foundation currently runs schools in Kenya and India with a school population of 500 children – and growing.

All the speakers shared their experiences in their respective fields and they provided students with an opportunity to see and discuss first hand, the difficulties that others face. We always say that the world is not fair, but awareness and a civic sense of cultural, social and humanitarian education will help us become a more inclusive society.

The attitude and behaviour of students and young adults are vital. Social contact is the best way to tackle issues of prejudice, discrimination and stigma. The Human Library is an important event where volunteers from marginalized groups act as human books, where one can borrow people instead of books.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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