NGO leaders praise Maltese generosity

Representatives from six NGOs that work for the benefit of disadvantaged people discuss their organisations' work and values on Reporter

Saviour Balzan with Antoinette Shah and Anna Zammit
Saviour Balzan with Antoinette Shah and Anna Zammit

Although the social gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is increasing, the Maltese population has remained incredibly generous, Wishing Others Well director Fr Hillary Tagliaferro said.

“People often donate money to us without questioning how it will be spent,” Tagliaferro said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter that dealt with NGOs which work for the benefit of disadvantaged people. "This is probably because they realize that we follow the teachings of Christ, who spoke about everyone's right to a life of dignity. All donations we receive go to that cause."

Dar tal-Providenza director Fr. Martin Micallef revealed that the annual operation costs of his organisaton are close to the €4 million mark.

“We house around 170 disabled people, employ around 200 employees and our annual operation expense isaround €4 million,” Micallef said. “We collect around €0.5 million annually through our residents’ pensions, but the remainder is collected solely through donations. We’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary next year and, thanks to the people’s continuous generosity, we’ve always managed to perform our work. Without donations, we simply wouldn’t be able to operate.”

It appears as though a future drying-up of donations will also spell the end for the Arka Foundation, an NGO that provides housing for disabled people in Gozo.

“We house around 20 disabled people, some on a permanent basis and others on respite programmes,” Arka director Fr. Michael Galea said. “We need around €1 million a year to run our house, money that largely depends on the generosity of people. If it wasn’t for this generosity, we’d have to shut our doors.”  

Joe Mifsud from Mission Fund pointed out that this generosity is not limited to the confines of Malta.

“We give €4000 to every missionary bishop and €2000 to every other Maltese missionary,” Mifsud said. “Nine Maltese bishops and hundreds of other Maltese people are currently involved in missionary work in places like Kenya, Honduras, and Albania,” Mifsud said. “We receive our money through regular donations and fundraising activities. The Maltese love helping voluntary organisations out and one of the best products that Malta exports is its missionaries.”   

However, some NGOs are more reliant on government funding to keep up with their costs.

“Our annual expenditure is around €1.1 million and, whilst we do receivemoney from donations, a significant portion of it comes through government funding,” Richmond Foundation CEO Antoinette Shah said. “Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma attached to mental illnesses and we’re not as popular as NGOs such as Hospice Malta because people don’t want to associate themselves with mental illnesses.

“Richmond has around 45 employees and 60 voluntary workers. We treat around 1400 patients per year, over and above those people who aren’t registered with us but who visit our offices for therapy. We’ve had months where six people with suicidal thoughts visited our offices.”

Towards an independent lifestyle

Several of the NGO representatives pointed out that their ultimate aim is to help their patients achieve a more independent state of living.

“We don’t just want to offer our residents a roof and food, but we want them to be included in society,” Micallef said. “Therefore, Dar tal-Providenza offers our patients transport, community activities, a multi-sensory room, an ICT lab and Internet in their rooms so that they can communicate with their families. We also offer personalized services and, for example, we let our patients decide what they would like to eat or where they would like to go on an outing.

“As we only house the most severe cases, it’s very rare that our patients manage to find a job. However, one of our patients works at a bakery, another one works with MITA, and another is fruitlessly searching for a clerical job. Once, one of our patients found a job and ended up living in a social housing unit.”   

“We actually employ people with a disability ourselves at Arka Foundation so as to set an example,” Galea said. “Ideally, we would rather see disabled people live independently or with their families but it is not always possible. Five of our residents arrived at Arka after court orders had forced them to move out of their family households, following advice from social workers.”

Anna Zammit, care services manager at Hospice Malta, highlighted the importance of expanding palliative care services.

“We treat more and more patients every year and treated around 1000 people suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses this year,” Zammit said. “Around 30 palliative professionals and 200 volunteers work with us and we offer a combination of medical, emotional, social and spiritual assistance.

“Our aim for next year is to expand our community services, so that patients spend more time in their community and less time in hospital.”

‘Towards the closure of Mount Carmel’

Shah said that technology, medicine, and psychology have advanced to a stage where mental institutions, such as Mount Carmel, need no longer exist.

“Some countries don’t house mental patients in institutional houses at all but in acute wards within hospitals,” Shah said. “A lot of residents of Mount Carmel don’t need to live there but are incapable of looking after themselves after having been hospitalized for so long. We therefore offer supported housing schemes to people with mental health problems who have a job or are receiving social benefits, whereby we offer them social housing along with lessons in life skills such as how to budget, how to find a job and how to cook.”

Live current affairs programme Reporter is presented by Saviour Balzan and produced by MediaToday. It is aired live every Monday at 9.45pm on TVM 1