At a home for girls, one resident took advantage of the COVID-19 curbs to reflect on her life and set new targets
The announcement that people are going to have to lock themselves up indoors, and be unable to see their friends or family because of the COVID-19 outbreak, sounded like a nightmare for Maya*.
But 11 weeks on, the 17-year-old believes that the lockdown implemented at Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja has helped turn her life around.
Like other residential homes, the conservatorio went into lockdown on March 13, with the carers needing to come up with ideas on how to keep 19 adolescents, aged between 10 and 17, entertained.
Carmen Brincat, who runs the residential programme, told Times of Malta that the lockdown took away the little time these girls had with their friends and relatives.
Most of the girls are placed at the residence under a care order. Their backgrounds varies but they all have a turbulent past. This common factor could be what helped them take the lockdown in their stride and pull through over the past few weeks.
An imposed lockdown could do your head in
“An imposed lockdown could do your head in, especially when you know that all other children your age are out and about,” Maya said.
She added that however, the initial reaction of rebellion soon fizzled out when the girls realised that the decision had been taken for their own safety.
“I decided to spend the time indoors to reflect on my future, take my studies seriously and set new career targets… to be honest I’m now reluctant to go out as I’m feeling quite safe here.”
Maya spent her childhood in between residential homes, sometimes returning to her biological parents’ house. She refers to the time she spent at her parents’ place as living on edge: “It never felt right, and I was always scared that something would go wrong.
“After spending some time here, I felt that this would be the best place to provide me with emotional security as I was never abandoned when I committed a mistake,” she added.
Maya believes that the trust her carers afforded her has helped her come a long way to “feel normal”.
This ties in with Brincat’s method of running the residence. When she was entrusted with the role eight years ago, the first thing she did was remove padlocks from doors and windows, taking a more empathic approach that focused mostly on positive reinforcement.
“They have had a tough upbringing and we can only be of help if we are with them at their lowest,” she said.
“The girls’ challenging behaviour did not vanish into thin air and I believe it will remain for years to come because it is a result of their turbulent past, however, we have seen huge improvement in the residents over the past few years.”
This further encouraged the board of trustees of Vincenzo Bugeja to fund a semi-independent residence that would allow those aged over 18 to continue with their studies or start a career.
At this residence, the young women are guided on how to budget their expenditure, look for a job and secure independent accommodation, something Maya aspires to do.
“We can never take away all their troubles and pain, but we hope that while right now they crave only their biological parents’ love, one day they will look back at the time they spent at the conservatorio as a time when they were cared for and guided to the right path.”
‘I knew I would not be abandoned again’
When Carmen Brincat took up her post, Ruth* was a school dropout and had fallen victim to substance abuse.
Ten years on, the 22-year-old has enough qualifications to enrol at the University of Malta, pursue her dream career and rent her own place.
“When I was at the deep end Carmen did not turn me away. Instead, she helped me get cleaned up and find a job. And now that I have left the conservatorio I can still turn to her for support.”
Ruth benefitted from the semi-independent residence, where she learnt skills such as budgeting and shopping for groceries, while she could continue with her studies and save up some money.
Ruth believes that the change in environment at the conservatorio helped her trust the carers more: “At the beginning it felt like I was in a cage, with no prospect of making it anywhere. When the padlocks came off, I could go wherever I set my heart or mind”.
The change saw Ruth going from keeping everything under wraps to owning up when committing a mistake. She knew she would have to pay the consequences, but like Maya, she also knew she was finally at a place where she would not be abandoned again.
*Names have been changed