Peter Micallef felt secure at home when he was looked after by his parents who did everything for their intellectually-disabled son and ensured he was always served a warm meal. "My mother no longer calls me to tell me the food is ready. I had to learn to be independent..." As his parents aged and eventually passed away, he started feeling helpless and had to learn to do everything alone. "It's very important to know how to live alone. I would like to tell people that it is not easy. You have to think for yourself and cook and care for yourself," the 37-year-old said. "Both my parents are dead. My mother no longer calls me to tell me the food is ready. I had to learn to be independent... and that I'm not inferior to others," he said.

For the past eight months Mr Micallef has been living in a Paola apartment for independent living run by Fondazzjoni Wens, which works with people with intellectual disabilities. "At first I was confused. Then I started getting used to it. I go to work by bus. I work in a cash and carry in the mornings. When I finish work I come here. I go for a walk sometimes," he said, adding that he also helped with chores around the house.

Ronald Galea, founder of Fondazzjoni Wens, said eight people lived in the foundation's two Paola apartments, one for men and the other for women. The residents were taught how to cook, clean and live independently by a team of five Filipino care workers who live in a third apartment. Going back to the roots of the foundation, Mr Galea explained how he had contracted polio when he was nine months ago and became physically disabled. As he grew up he got to know disabled people and could see that many were not achieving their potential. He realised that parents of disabled people, especially those with intellectual disabilities, shared a common fear: Who would look after their children once they passed away? This concern stuck with him until, eventually, he set up the foundation.

Today, the foundation runs two homes - one in Kalkara that caters for 15 people and the Paola apartments. It recently bought another house in Kalkara, which will be turned into a "school" where intellectually-disabled people will be taught to live independently before moving on. The house is still in shell form and the foundation is collecting funds to do it up. Mr Galea explained that residents' pensions covered a third of the costs required to run the two homes. The rest of the expenses were covered by donations and government grants. This year, the foundation was given 167,000 by the government. He said the foundation tried to make use of discarded items to save costs. The aquamarine structure that supports the lift of the Paola block, for example, was once the frame of the Magic Kiosk in Sliema. "We give a use to what other people are throwing away," he smiled. Despite the constant costs, Mr Galea is determined to continue fighting to give people with intellectual disabilities a decent future. "I want to ensure they do not end up in a mental hospital or in a home for the elderly," he said, adding he had eyed a house in Fgura that could accommodate another eight or 10 people.

Article reproduced from TimesofMalta.com.
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120606/local/Intellectually-disabled-learn-to-lead-own-life.422969


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~Anne Frank