I have followed closely the ‘hullabaloo’-turned-‘controversy’ of Darleen Zerafa being offered a bursary following a unanimous decision by the Malta Community Chest Fund board (and offer that she immediately declined as evidenced, among other, in the management accounts and minutes), to specialise in an area of studies that complements a €2 million project benefiting people with eating disorders originated by the MCCF in association with the government.
This is about people in need who might find it increasingly difficult to get on with their life
Let’s be clear on what we are talking about here.
“Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder” (NSO-MCCF study, 2012). Fact one: the project was discussed in a number of MCCF board meetings. I should know, I am a board member even though I am writing on my own steam.
Board members, myself included, asked all the pertinent questions and we got all the germane answers. There was agreement that this project is a priority that has been placed on the back-burner for too long.
Fact two: there was unanimous concord, by the MCCF board, that before embarking on this project, a wide-ranging study, in collaboration with NSO, had to take place.
There were some disturbing findings, namely, that almost three per cent of those aged 15 - 50 have suffered (or still suffer) from an eating disorder, which means that people, in their thousands, are victims of this condition.
Binge eating affects 56 per cent of the population under study; 34 per cent are affected by anorexia and 13 per cent by bulimia.
And, lest we forget, we top the EU ‘morbid obese’ list with about 4,000 sufferers.
These disorders can be fatal.
Fact three: there was consensus by the MCCF board that we need to set up a professionally-managed service that includes residential, community and health support. This agency would need to focus also on the family, the community and serve as a point of reference for professionals wanting to pursue their specialisation in this area, which, to date, is not really available.
Regrettably, what we get is a Zerafa - Abela pseudo-inquest.
I’m not here to exalt Zerafa, who remains one of the most committed persons to the cause I know. She works tirelessly to listen to the people and supports and directs them to whatever need crops up. She is constantly at the back and call of people who are in dire straits. She is not only self-giving but unassuming and has never, not even once, asked to be shown any appreciation for the boundless work and service she gives to MCCF.
The choice to continue her studies was hers. The decision to support her was the board’s because she was best placed to do so.
The President of Malta does not need me to promote his accomplishments in the field of charity. He has managed to mobilise the country in so many initiatives and has drawn people to the Presidency. His is an endless ‘campaign’ to find ways to converge the Maltese people to a better understanding of their good selves. His is a boundless pursuit of finding ways how to support all those in need, over and above his responsibilities as President of the Republic.
Let’s face it, had it not been for the support of the MCCF we would have a situation whereby people might not get the required support because even though our welfare system is considered as among the most generous, a number of situations seem to slip through the net. For example, in certain situations people would struggle to fund their chemotherapy or to have their homes equipped with the basics or to get specialised operations because our international health protocols do not cover all and everyone.
I am writing here to help us concentrate on what lies at the heart of all of this.
This is not about the President or Zerafa. This is a genuine concern I have that if people are derailed from the affiance that they have developed with the MCCF they will not simply rock a boat or affect the Abelas but the people who are in need might find it increasingly difficult to get on with their life.
This service, Dar Kenn Għal Saħħtek, is about all of us.
The options at the moment are close to none.
The opportunities in the coming months will be great for children, young people and adults struggling with eating disorders.
The MCCF has evolved from “... generating a kitty mentality to breeding community, which I feel it has done well. The quality of life of any population is an important concern for all. I think that all of us should take part, in our own little way. Believe me, it makes us better people living in finer communities” (Power Of Volunteering, Azzopardi, December 14, 2012).
The MCCF needs you. The NGOs developing some far-reaching project or other, the mum who wants to give some quality of life to her kids, the dedicated husband who would like to give hope to his wife need you.
I accepted to be part of the MCCF because my word and my ideas count. I have never and will never be made to decide on things I do not believe serve the cause at its best. I wouldn’t bother being there anyway if that were the case.
I say again: there was no manoeuvring, no playing around. The MCCF had and still has a genuine commitment to the cause.
Andrew Azzopardi is senior lecturer at the University’s Department of Youth and Community Studies.