People around the world are united through their wish to live a full, happy life, whatever walk of life they come from. A not so closely guarded secret to achieving inner peace and happiness is by finding the right balance between caring for yourself and caring for others. A quick look at how you spend your time will let you know where you stand. Working? Check. Exercising? Check. Socialising? Check. Giving back to society? Probably not at the top of most people’s lists.
There are a couple of ways in which you could hit that last requirement. You can always give donations to various organisations which do a lot of good in our society, and you can even choose to donate things such as clothes, books, food, and even your hair. If, on the other hand, you wish to have a more active role in your generosity, you can always opt for dedicating time to these organisations as one of their volunteers.
Aġenzija Sapport is one such place where you can devote your time. Starting as the Supported Living Division within the Foundation for Social Welfare Services of the then Ministry for Social Policy in 2001, the goals of the Division were to establish principles, values, and strategies in order to aid people with disability and their families. By 2016, the Division had become an autonomous agency. Everyone at Aġenzija Sapport is intent on offering personalised support, expertise, and advocacy in order to enhance the quality of life of people with disability. To this aim, the Sharing Lives service was launched in April 2017 in order to cater for the companionship and social needs loop holes, which other services offered by the Agency do not cover. Nonetheless, people with disabilities need not be making use of any of these other services in order to become beneficiaries of Sharing Lives.
WHAT IS SHARING LIVES?
This service provides a new dimension to the work of the Agency by allowing the public to be a part of their mission. People over 16 can choose to help by offering their time and their companionship to people with disability. The service works by pairing up volunteers and beneficiaries of the service when they go out on events. Ultimately, the aim is to help people with disabilities enlarge their social circle by meeting new people and making new friends, with whom they bond over the events they attend together. Currently, the number of beneficiaries who make use of this service stands at around seventy, and all of them are adults aged 18 and over.
Needless to say, the volunteers themselves also benefit from this, since they’re also making new friends and experiencing new things. Through this matching, both sides enrich their lives with the presence of people who share similar likes and dislikes, and most importantly share the same memories. As a result, the people involved build positive, lasting relationships, while always having something to look forward to, avoiding the dreaded dilemma that creeps up on the best of friends: ‘where shall we go this week?’
Sharing Lives offers a variety of cultural and entertaining activities such as outings to the theatre and to pubs, hiking, workouts at the gym, and even excursions to musical events such as Isle of MTV. There is definitely no shortage of fun activities to attend!
I was lucky enough to be invited to attend one of Sharing Lives’s event. On the day, 10 people with disabilities were chosen to be pampered by a beauty team made up of a hairdresser and makeup artist, and to have their photos taken by a professional photographer. To complete their looks, their outfits were sponsored by a number of stores. The fun started before though, as the lucky ten were allowed to go to the stores and choose their own outfits.
As I stood by watching the flurry of activity unfold around me, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone poured their heart into the job at hand, with a lot of smiles, jokes, and lively chatter. Evidently, all those present had a good relationship with each other and this showed in their friendly interactions with each other. Both volunteers and beneficiaries were at ease together and this made for a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The professional staff and volunteers helped ease the models of the day into their role, cracking jokes and giving them compliments to help them relax and feel comfortable in front of the camera. It was definitely an exciting day, and it was a clear indication of how successful the Sharing Lives Service is in helping people with disabilities bond with volunteers, while enjoying themselves and experiencing new things together.
Michelle Bonnici, the makeup artist, was the one who approached the Agency and suggested that something along these lines take place so that the beneficiaries get to be pampered, and feel like beautiful models. As the idea flourished, finally coming to fruition, the aims of the Agency were established: to break the stereotypes which tend to follow people with disability, to make the people taking part feel beautiful and pampered, and to show everyone that even people with disabilities can look and feel as beautiful as models.
The most important characteristic that volunteers should possess is that they are willing to spend time with persons with disabilities and that they are ready to accept the responsibility that comes with being an important part of their lives.
The volunteers mainly split up into two categories: those who attend the events as companions, and those offering a service free of charge. Past volunteers include dance teachers, chefs, musicians, professional photographers, makeup artists, and hairdressers, among others. Those volunteers who are paired up with the beneficiaries, are professionally recruited, trained, and supervised, and also meet them before being paired up with a person with disability. Furthermore, during the events and activities, a professional from the Agency is always present, in order to aid the volunteers and to be on hand for anything that may occur.
The volunteers who took part in the Photoshoot event were Michelle Bonnici of Mixa’s Nails and Makeup, Rachel Muscat of Rachel Muscat Photography, and Antoinette Vella of Heads Up Salon. They also offered their services to the beneficiaries free of charge. Other sponsors were River Island, New Look, and Kiabi who provided the models with clothes and accessories, and Hotel Excelsior who provided the venue. Without people who sponsor and volunteer at such events, Sharing Lives wouldn’t be the success it is today, and I urge people to consider offering their time or services to make a change and be a part of something so beautiful and worthwhile.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, all you have to do is visit Aġenzija Sapport’s website: www. sapport.gov.mt and fill in the online application. You can also visit their offices in Santa Venera, or call on 2256 8000 for more details. To show your support and find out more about the Agency’s work, you can also like their page on Facebook.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Ruth Attard