Only in Malta could the ALS ice bucket challenge become a political bone of contention. In every other corner of the civilised world, it has been taken for what it is: an innovative and amusing way to raise money for a little-talked-about cause.
The two creators of the ice bucket challenge (one of whom sadly drowned earlier this month) deserve immense credit for managing to create a global buzz that has not been seen since some Korean guy and a little kid did a funny shuffle that went viral on You Tube. They fully understood the immense power of this social media machine and maximised it to full advantage.
All across the world, well-known celebrities were suddenly having buckets of ice cold water poured over their heads. When George W. Bush joined the fray – whatever his failings, taking himself seriously isn’t one of them – the challenge was elevated to another level. It wasn’t just for publicity-hungry stars, but also for people who purport to be serious citizens.
The ice-cube tsunami took some days to reach Malta. But, predictably, reach Malta it eventually did. Joseph Muscat – never one to shy away from a bit of free positive publicity – made sure he was one of the first prominent people on the island to take it on. To my surprise, one of those he nominated was me.
I’m not the most publicity-hungry person in the world – my colleagues would probably say I don’t even know what the term means – but given it was the Prime Minister who threw down the gauntlet I felt I had little choice. Castille seemed to be the natural location, and within 10 minutes the deed was done. I returned to the office, drenched and with no change of clothes, and made a small donation to ALS before carrying on with my work.
Would I have made this donation if the ice bucket challenge wasn’t so high profile? No. And it’s not because I don’t think the cause is worthy. I think it’s very worthy. I know from personal experience how debilitating a disease like Motor Neurone Disease (or similar) can be because I have seen a relative suffer it at close quarters. Over a few painful years, he wasted away bit by bit in the most inhumane manner while his wife became virtually a prisoner in her own home while she cared for him. As with most MND patients, he eventually choked to death, at the age of 46, leaving a distraught young family behind.
I wouldn’t have made a donation without the ice bucket challenge because: one, I wouldn’t have known about the charity; two, sometimes it takes an event like this to force us into action.
Some people in Malta have tried to rubbish the challenge (a sense of frivolous fun is not the nation’s strongpoint), while Simon Busuttil – I’m afraid to say – made a complete hash of the issue by repeatedly failing to make clear what his opinion was. Against, for, against, for...
But among the crossfire, there is one opinion that doesn’t hold much water (if you’ll pardon the pun) in my view: which is that we shouldn’t make a donation because ALS is not a local charity.
This is utter nonsense. While the relative I referred to earlier was alive, the Malta Hospice Movement provided a great deal of assistance to him. And his widow, who is my aunt, became heavily involved with the Hospice for many years after his death. I am therefore acutely aware of the invaluable work that they do and grateful for it.
But, much as they spend countless hours caring for people who need it most, one thing they can never do is find a cure for this terrible disease. Only well-funded research on a global level stands a chance of doing that. This makes ALS a very deserving beneficiary in my book. In any case, people are free to spend their money as they please without interference from anyone else, and, as for those who decry the waste of water, maybe they can form a group to object to the island’s countless private swimming pools – or do they have one themselves?
Let’s also not forget that there is nothing to stop us helping local charities in any way we can. As a media organisation, we provide support on a regular basis; while, on a personal level, I am very pleased that through my collaboration with Eddie Fenech Adami on his autobiography, later this year we will be making a substantial donation to the charity of his choice: Dar tal-Providenza.
It’s a good thing for charity to start at home. But it mustn’t end there. And if you can have a bit of immature fun along the way – when you’re my height growing up is a very difficult concept to fathom – then all the better.
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