Universe of Faith listened to Ms Maria Attard, Director of Ġużeppa Debono Home in Gozo, a residential home for single mothers and a hub for educational activities for the young generation. This home has offered its services successfully for almost 40 yrs. Maria Attard has been chosen as one of the women inspiring Europe in 2013 by the European Institute of Gender Equality.
As a biology teacher in a secondary school, Maria Attard always had to heart the education of teenagers especially teens who are going through a rough period in the life. "I always opted to teach these girls; those at the periphery. The beauty of a developing child in the womb always fascinated me and I could not but see the incredible beauty of the human person," she said. Baffled by societal stigma and by the suffering of the single mothers, Maria willingly accepted to help in running the Ġużeppa Debono Home when asked to.
"Helping a single mother is helping a child too"
Maria spent 25 years sleeping in the home to be able to offer a 24 hour service. When this service was no longer available to underage women, Maria asked for help through an article in the Times of Malta last summer and the Minister of Gozo intervened to help. The "home" feeling is also very important for Maria, rather than just being another institution. Ġużeppa Debono Home offers its services not only to underage age women but also to elder women who experience an unplanned pregnancy as single mothers or in a extra-marital affair. "Helping a single mother is helping a child too who is innocent and is most vulnerable when still in the womb. When we opened, most women were sent away from home or they themselves sought a shelter away from the gossiping neighbourhood. Today this has lessened but the emotional needs are the same."
Maria believes, that support is very important so that the parents and society can consider the child as a gift. "A child is never a mistake even if s/he is unplanned, s/he is always a gift. So this goes beyond gossiping, stigmatizing and judging. A child is a precious gift to the parents which must be waited for and received with joy and jubilee."
"I feel so happy when I see a father looking after his children"
Ġużeppa Debono Home also offers educational seminars in secondary schools in Gozo to help young teens build healthy and happy relationships, appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the gift of life, and address the importance of both the mother and the father in the life of the child: "I feel so happy whenever I see a father looking after his children, going out with them and share their life. When a father is present the family is safe and sound. They need to know their role as fathers and live up to it. We need each other, men and women, to be whole."
"The parable of the lost sheep is taken seriously"
Though the home is a Church entity NGO, the place has seen people from all sorts of backgrounds, religious and not. Asking Maria whether faith had a role in the service she offered, she replied, "Christ nourished me with His word, with His life and the way He lived. I am very much inspired by the gospel, by Jesus' word and attitudes. This is not philanthropy but giving a service for the love of God and because in the person served there is the image of God. Jesus' words to invite to our table those who cannot pay us back or the parable of the lost sheep are taken seriously and the service is given with joy."
Working with various professionals
The service in the house is given by various. Maria works closely with PSCD teachers in schools, and social workers, counsellors and lawyers in the house to help women participate in accredited courses, enhance their employment opportunities, improve their relationship with their partner in regular support groups, avail themselves of the counselling services, and support them in nurturing their new child: "This is a call, you are chosen, so God will be with you in this service. Being humble, patient, loving the person sincerely, without expecting nothing in return will see you through and you get a lot in return."
Seeing myself as a gift to others
Having worked so hard for a better Gozitan society for women, we asked Maria what does she have to say to those who believe that abortion is firmly associated with the right to autonomy and bodily integrity for the woman: "If I believe and realise that I am a created being, I did not choose where, when and how to be in existence, why now and here, I realise that I am not my own. I am a person in relation with Someone who made me out of nothing and that there is a mission for me. Then I respect myself and see myself as a gift to others and so I cannot decide for myself if not in the vision of The One who made me. So I take care of my body and try and be a responsible steward."
Updated: February 2018
Published: August 2016