Valletta, 9 November 2018 – In this new ‘Voices’ piece, Jackie reflects on her experience as a volunteer with the project Comunities of Hospitality in Malta helping a refugee family .
“Those who welcome the Father’s embrace […] become so many other open arms and embraces, enabling every person to feel loved like a child and ‘at home’ as part of the one human family.”1 Inspired by these words of Pope Francis, as well as by his actions, three years ago, JRS Malta launched the Communities of Hospitality project.
Spread over ten different European countries, this project sought to respond to the hostility encountered by so many migrants and refugees in Europe with that hospitality and welcome which is “not so much a task, but a way of living and sharing […] a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generous sharing of time and resources.”2
In Malta, communities could participate in one of two ways. Either by opening their doors to accommodate a family. Or else by agreeing to accompany and support a family or individual living in a particularly vulnerable situation, by offering friendship and moral support. And this is where my story comes in.
At around the same time this project was being launched, the Christian Life Community (CLC) group RODS, of which I am a member, had taken the decision to work with a refugee family after a discernment process in common. We therefore decided to invite JRS Malta representatives to discuss in what way we could be of help. We were asked to help a group of five siblings ranging from the age of six years till thirteen years with their homework.
This Syrian family had been in Malta for a year, but the children were struggling with their studies as they did not know any English or Maltese. Logistically speaking, the best place to meet was in my home and we started meeting the children twice a week for two hours to help them with their homework.
There were big, daunting gaps in their education since they had interrupted their schooling or, in the case of the younger children, not gone to school at all, but their eagerness to learn was infectious and encouraging.
A group of five of us, and sometimes more, continued to meet them in the summer to teach them basic English and Maths. We were also joined by two members from another CLC group and a St Aloysius College sixth former who was doing voluntary work. This continued ceaselessly for three years until the family moved away from Malta.
During this time, what started off as a project, became a work of love. These children and their parents wove themselves into our hearts because although they had been through so much, they always had a smile on their face and would express heartfelt gratitude for the smallest act.
I feel that we were the ones who were being taught: taught to love, to trust, to have mercy, to be hospitable, to be patient, caring and understanding. This family, who had nothing and were surviving on social benefits because of the father’s health constraints, would prepare some traditional sweets or a plate of rice and bring it with them to feed us.
They had missed out on so much whilst growing up and we tried to meet them on a social basis too. We went swimming together, organized a picnic, played board games, football and took them to the cinema. We tried as much as possible to make them feel welcome and loved, especially after experiencing first-hand incidents of racial discrimination.
Moreover what started as just a RODS project, ended up involving another CLC community and our own children, who would regularly help out with the lessons if we were “short-staffed”. My family dynamics improved enormously as a result of my children realizing how blessed we all are.
We were given the privilege of touching the wounds of a group of people we could no longer call refugees but friends. And our life changed. I hope that for a while we were able to make a difference in their lives. Because they certainly made a difference in ours.
By Jackie, volunteer with the project Communities of Hospitality in Malta